Ahead of the forthcoming superhero blockbusters The Amazing Spiderman, The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, Chronicle arrives as a different take on the genre. Josh Trank’s directorial film debut has become a surprise hit grossing $81,079,000 worldwide, primarily due to a strong critical reception and an “effective” viral marketing campaign. Taking inspiration from the recent revival of the found-footage genre, Chronicle takes the shaky camerawork and tries to capture the rise of a tormented super-villain within a rational scope. Does it succeed? The short answer… kind of.
The film follows 3 high school friends, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) who happen to discover a crashed alien entity. They learn that they have been bestowed with telekinetic powers and other extraordinary abilities. Initially discreet about the use of their newfound talents, they soon begin to use them recklessly. The troubled background of Andrew gradually influences his actions as he descends into EVIL. Chronicle’s narrative isn’t an especially creative or original one; dabbling in the ‘breeding grounds’ of cinema clichés, the high school drama and superhero feature, screenwriter Max Landis keeps everything safe, grounded but with a slither of ambiguity. Focusing on a character-driven story, and sensibly avoiding scientific jargon or conspiracies, Chronicle follows its three personalities through Andrew’s camera and does this confidently and rigorously
However, the problem lies with the characters themselves. Consisting of the stereotypical social types of the “American High School”; ‘Mr Popular’ (Steve), the ‘misunderstood, sensible one’ (Matt) and the ‘loner’ (Andrew), Chronicle has a hard time creating characters worth truly investing in. Michael B. Jordan puts in the standout performance that offers a touch of charm and wit in a film predominately devoid of likeable or intelligent individuals. The main focus is Andrew, and his tragic and dismal home-life and school-life is explored in a substantial amount of detail. Consequently, his character’s path and subsequent fate becomes all too apparent within the first 30 minutes. Dane DeHaan’s mumbling and frustratingly bland performance becomes a tedious affair, which isn’t helped by shoddy and dimwitted dialogue. What teenager has no general knowledge of what an ‘apex predator’ or ‘telekinesis’ is? Finally, Alex Russell is largely forgettable and loosely developed up until the final act. A romance is haphazardly introduced between his character and a classmate, which feels barebones and decidedly pointless.
Visually, Chronicle’s use of the hand-held medium is an interesting one for a story that crescendos in scope throughout its runtime. The change in film grain and audio quality after Andrew upgrades his camera is a neat touch, and the film is resilient in its cinematic endeavour. However, like Cloverfield or the use of handheld cameras in action-sequences (The Bourne Trilogy), framing the fast-paced nature of the finale is hindered by the constraints of Trank’s artistic and technical choice. Meanwhile the impressive, interconnected editing from other sources such as CCTV footage or news helicopters, while attempting to rectify the inability to compose a film on a sizeable scale, directly contradicts the “from Andrew’s camera” perspective the film intends to capture. Other than that, the CGI looks awkward at times and the audio design is mediocre.
The main and big issue with Chronicle lies in its marketing campaign. Recently trailers in general have increasing become more determined to show the entirety of the film in 2 minutes, for example The Amazing Spiderman’s recent trailer. Chronicle’s leaves nothing to the imagination, even quickly rewinding from the film’s finale to mid-first act. The various “pranks” and action scenes don’t have the desired effect when they’ve been plastered before each Youtube video over and over and over again. The unfortunate reality is that those who haven’t seen the trailers will gain the most out of Chronicle.
Overall, Chronicle is a credible directorial debut by Josh Trank. His different angle on the genre is a somewhat entertaining one that, coupled with the ‘handy-cam’ style, creates a refreshing ‘superhero/power’ film. However, it’s a clichéd affair. From its characters to the training sequences nothing really stands out or surprises. Trank and Landis’ ‘grounded in believability’ approach backfires, melding the tedious social archetypes of high school with the overcooked and unimaginative notions of ‘superpowers’.