Director Josh Trank adds another entry into the found-footage genre with Chronicle. This time though, he’s documenting 3 young teens who stumble upon superhero like strengths that give them the power to fly, heal and cause lots of pain to others. It’s one of those high concept films shot on a low budget, with mostly no-names. Trank captures the basic found-footage shots that are needed in the first half for these particular types of films, but he does go much bigger towards the films climax. Chronicle is an achievement in trying something different using a tired way of filmmaking, making the film feel more like an experiment then an actual film.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) are attending a party, but as they distance themselves from the building they stumble upon a hole out in the middle of nowhere. They drop down into it, looking for something cool to get on camera and share with friends at the party. What they find isn’t clear, but after coming in close contact with this object they are given superhero like powers. The ability to fly, regenerate health and have super strength is just a few of their new traits.
They decide to continue to document everything. The powers come at a turning point in Andrew’s life. His mother is slowly dying and his father, who was a firefighter, is now a drunk that occasionally beats on him and almost always makes him feel bad. He’ kind of a loner at school, only getting rides from his cousin Matt. He picks up a camera to originally document everything, from his happy moments with his mom to his more dark moments with his dad. He’s a teenager full of rage, but he doesn’t have any way of letting his rage out, until he is given extraordinary powers.
Chronicle focuses on Andrew’s slow decay from lonely quiet one to angry tormentor. The film takes the tired found-footage genre and sort of turns it on itself, adding different camera angles very cleverly and giving most shots a real movie look to them. The film doesn’t really benefit from this method of storytelling. It only really provides them with several excuses, such as having some so-so acting by the supporting characters. That can be covered up by saying these aren’t actors on the screen, just real people uncovering a discovery. Also, the film was shot on a lower budget, which means the camera cuts and shakiness can cover up some of the spotty special effects that would probably look a lot worse if shot traditionally.
It does however bring some fresh ideas to the mix. Trank uses Andrew’s ability to levitate things as a way of getting different camera shots. Andrew keeps the camera floating around him, making the film feel more third-person if anything. Also, whenever there is another camera in the scene, the point-of-view changes to the other person. Little details like that at least keep the film feeling fresh and not like another found-footage film.
The acting is the worse part of the film. Dane DeHaan plays Andrew. He no doubtingly tries to come off as the misunderstood teen that tries socializing and fitting in, but ends up going nuts, Carrie style, but it just doesn’t work. He character too often uses everything as an excuse. He’s given these amazing powers and instead of fully utilizing them, he just continues to mope around and complain to his buddies. The character has some issues, but not once do you feel the need to feel bad for him or even hope things get better. He’s always kind of an asshole from start to finish, without any sort of ark.
Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan play Matt and Steve, the other two that discover the powers. They’re more of stereotypes if anything, one being the smart guy who has no troubles with girls or anything and the other being the poetic type, trying to impress everyone and fit in with the more popular crowd. They’re peeled back more once they get the powers, but Chronicle mostly keeps the focus on Andrew.
This is where the films first major problem comes into play. There are no characters to root for. You don’t feel a connection to any of the three guys; you instead are forced to watch them do stupid stuff, with occasional moments of character interaction coming into play. It’s hard getting behind a movie with no leads and no real drive.
The second biggest problem is the whole found-footage element. Director Josh Trank is clever enough to mix up the angles, making them essentially feel like a normal movie. All the found-footage filming style does is cover up some of their production tracks. As far as the story is concerned it only hurts the film. It disconnects you with the main characters and it provides you with more than a few disoriented moments, to help keep up the authentic homemade movie vibe. I would have rather preferred a more traditional movie that would allow the camera to step back when it needed to.
Found-footage films are tricky monsters. You need to make the film feel like something anyone could make while keeping the characters interesting and still driving the film. Chronicle doesn’t really feel like a movie. It just feels like an experiment. Trank shows his ability to direct films from a visual point of view, but not from a storytelling point of view. Everything feels too distant, which really hurts the films more emotional moments, where it tries getting across the character of Andrew on a more personal level.
Chronicle is proof that the found-footage genre isn’t completely dead; it’s in fact very alive. New concepts and wild ideas are what drive this genre and Josh Trank‘s film shows a lot of benefits from the filming style, while also showing a lot of troubled negatives. It’s a mixed bag, giving you some good and bad. I thought the bad outweighed the good, just by a little, but some may be more forgiving.
Chronicle – 7/10