Chronicle is the subversion of genre itself by screenwriter, and son of John, Max Landis. The script was featured on the Black List a few years back, and the script quickly sold to 20th Century Fox, heading a series of sales and assignments for Landis that gained him wide attention and got him working for Ron Howard. For this one, he teams with his buddy Josh Trank (both are 26 years old) on what was initially supposed to be a low budget, under the radar found footage film that cost less than a million dollars. A few years, and many advertising dollars later, Chronicle has rolled into theaters with much discussion over the nature of the film, and although audiences seemed split on the film from the trailer, it seems that most are walking away satisfied.
I have to admit, having some personal interaction with some of the people that made this film, I was pre-disposed to think a certain way about it. However, upon seeing it, it blew away all my expectations, both as a genre film, and as a superhero film, and I had the chance to read the script a while back. However, this is a great translation of that intent, supported by strong performances from unknown actors, and visual f/x sequences that are so unique that the quality of them never really becomes an issue.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a loner, a quiet boy from a broken home where his sick mother is lorded over by his abusive, repressive father (Michael Kelly). Andrew’s only escape is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), an affable guy who hangs out with his younger cousin because he’s aware Andrew doesn’t have anyone else. Matt still lives in a different world though, one where people like Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the leading candidate for senior class president, talk to him. Andrew watches their world from afar, and the film starts when he purchases a camera to record his life, to seemingly spread the misery around.
When Matt is able to convince Andrew to come with him to a party at an abandoned building, Andrew reluctantly agrees to go. When he runs into the same problems he has at school relating to the other students, he goes to be by himself. Steve comes looking for Andrew and his camera, telling him that Matt and Steve found something amazing he has to get on tape. Andrew, surprised Steve even knows who he is, agrees to come along. They find a hole in the ground that gives them an otherworldly experience, scaring the three young men, but changing them as well.
What the boys begin to realize is they have powers, mental powers, that can control any object they desire to control. It’s only a matter of if they have the mental strength to control said objects, which they quickly learn that they have to build up, like a muscle. Andrew quickly retreats into his own psyche, building his power and molding it. This only becomes troubling when Andrew recedes into himself and his mother’s condition takes a turn for the worst. Andrew can no longer worry about the minimal problems of a teenager, he has to deal with his broken family life.
From here, the story fragments, Andrew and Matt cease to spend time together, and Steve is put out of the picture by way of tragic events that Andrew was witness to. In a lesser film, Matt and Steve would both be the prototypical douche characters that stuck to their stereotypes. The performance of Michael B. Jordan makes Steve a likable character, he comes out of his stereotype, but Andrew refuses to believe it. Without Steve, Andrew feels he has no reason to listen to Matt, and he further pursues the theory of the Apex Predator, a being that is above humanity, who should therefore care little for humanity, or for that matter, any single human.
Andrew begins his rampage that turns into a full scale war with the police, and only Matt can jump in to do anything about it, saving his uncle from certain death, and enraging Andrew in the process. The script is key here, and it’s what makes the final act work. It’s the natural progression of human behavior. Sure, there might be some fantastical elements on display, but it’s still a good representation of the progression of the human psyche in that situation.
This is where the found footage element really comes into play. Throughout most of the film, they make the most of the gimmick, incorporating the floating camera as part of Andrew’s powers, but it makes for some interesting shots, and the audience doesn’t get lost in the camera’s positioning. Trank did well to incorporate a multitude of different formats to follow his characters, including security camera footage, and police camera footage, blending it all into one experience that allows us to take a voyeuristic look at super heroes, something we’ve never done before, as most super hero films have been flashy with big budgets.
I’m still amazed at the production value that Trank managed to pull out of this film on such a tight budget. He manages to destroy half of downtown Seattle and make it all believable, while still telling a very character driven, intrinsic story. This is the new face of found footage, the film that proves found footage is here to stay as a genre, now it’s only a matter of filmmakers using the technique properly and effectively in the future. Much bigger and smarter than I expected, this is one that’s well worth seeing in the theater.