Josh Trank’s Chronicle is a film about three friends who, at a party, discover some weird ass underground cave full of what looks like giant color changing crystals that give them super powers. If you’re rolling your eyes at that premise, I don’t blame you. The fact of the matter is, YES this is another “found footage” film, but it is SO much better than that. It’s also much darker than you would imagine.
The main character, Andrew (Dane DeHaan) initially buys a camera to document how awful his drunk asshole father treats him (which explains the found footage technique, but more on that in a bit). His mother is dying of cancer, and he’s often picked on at school. He’s a loner, who’s only friend is his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), who convinces him to attend the party that said mystical crystals are discovered, alongside his high school’s Class President, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). At first, the three sit around and learn how to use their powers by doing what any 18 year old dudes would do. Being jackasses. But soon, Andrew is crafting his new found ability much faster than the other two, and starts to use his powers out of anger and vengeance.
The first half of the film feels like a typical teenage movie, and almost feels like it’s playing it safe to keep a low rating. But, boy when Andrew hits his breaking point, the film gets real dark. There’s just something about seeing him lazily nudge his dead victim’s bodies just for the hell of it, that was pretty unsettling. There’s also a scene where he not only pulls a dude’s teeth out from the roots, but then excitedly shows his dental work, if you will, to the camera, while being covered in the dude’s blood. It was super awesome to see a superhero film like this, told not from the perspective of becoming the hero, but from the perspective of someone being beaten down by society enough to become the villain. And Dane DeHaan played it so well. He oozed angst and creepiness to the core. He was kind of like Hayden Christiansen in Revenge Of The Sith, except that he was actually good at it.
My main problem with the film though, was how unnecessary the “found footage” aspect was. To me, found footage films are already played out enough. Do we REALLY need another one? I felt like this story could have been better told if it were just a normal film. Or maybe even like District 9, where it starts out as one thing, and then halfway through, kinda says “ah screw it” and turns into an actual movie. I will give the director credit, though. He realized how taxing it is on the viewer to watch rough shaky footage for an hour and a half, so he developed a way to overcome that by having Andrew teach himself how to make his camera levitate beside him as events unfolded. Trank also created a way to have more than one camera angle by having another character filming everything around her for her blog, as well as having Andrew steal everyone’s iPhones and Flip Recorders around him, making them levitate and film the really awesome epic battle between Matt and Andrew in the finale. But at that point you have to wonder, wouldn’t it be easier to have just made it a normal film? Why go through all the trouble to create this big “found footage” film, when you spend half the time skirting around the idea entirely?
Overall, though, Chronicle was surprisingly tons of fun, looked great, and felt oddly original in a sea of tired, washed up, cliche found footage films. Despite how unnecessary I found the format, this is probably THE found footage film to see. Chronicle also ended in a way where I could easily see a sequel being made, if this one is a success. I personally hope that it would be made as a traditional film, but regardless, if there is one, count me in.
by Richard Pepper