Found-footage films have become an increasingly bankable and a low risk prospect for movie studios. Audiences continue to fill theater seats in search of the next compelling found-footage franchise – even if a film doesn’t sport high production values or recognizable actors. That said, the genre has typically enjoyed its biggest successes with horror fans – and is mostly untested in other film categories.
With Chronicle, first time feature-film director Josh Trank tries to deliver compelling character drama and entertaining onscreen action – as well as prove that there’s more opportunity in the genre than just spooky jump scares.
As moviegoers become more selective about the never-ending flood of superhero and found-footage “me too” projects available to them, it would be easy to write-off Chronicle as just another trendy cash-grab. However, after a string of less-than-satisfying faux “documentaries” (such as The Devil Inside) and high profile, but ultimately uninspired hero flicks (such as Green Lantern), it’s safe to say that Chronicle is poised to genuinely surprise a lot of moviegoers with intriguing characters, cool visuals, and an increasingly gripping central storyline.
Following the exploits of average teens Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Steve (Michael B. Jordan), and Matt (Alex Russell), Chronicle begins when the friends encounter a mysterious entity that – after afflicting them with days of bloody noses – results in the trio developing advanced telekinetic abilities. The boys quickly discover that their newfound super powers can be manipulated, honed, and strengthened – resulting in the ability to control larger objects, as well as mimic other traditional enhanced “abilities,” such as flight and invulnerability. However, as their powers increase, so does their potential to unintentionally (or intentionally) cause harm to others. Ultimately, the friends agree to keep their abilities in check, but it’s a delicate balance that one member of the group – the proverbial loner who has suffered physical and emotional abuse at home and at school – isn’t as ready to accept.
While there’s no shortage of awkward ways in which the events of Chronicle are caught on film (especially in the last act, where none of the primary characters have time to carry actual cameras around), some of the implementations represent a major step up for the genre. Early on, Andrew perfects the ability to move the camera with his telekinetic powers – resulting in much more dynamic and fluid cinematography that subsequently allows all the characters to be in various scenes, instead of always having one hiding behind the camera. While that method obviously can’t be applied to other found-footage films, it doesn’t detract from the creativity of the Chronicle filmmakers, who were especially methodical in delivering both an entertaining and unique movie that’s made better because of its found-footage format.
Another area where the film excels above similar genre fare is the trio of super powered protagonists. Chronicle doesn’t try to strong-arm audiences from action sequence to action sequence, and actually takes the time to build a cohesive character journey for its characters. Instead of flat and shallow protagonists, Andrew, Steve, and Matt each have interesting interpersonal dynamics and arcs that flourish as they explore both their abilities and their newly formed friendships. While the succeeding events might be somewhat familiar to comic book movie regulars, the characters offer plenty of entertaining and believable moments – even after the movie starts to take a dark turn.
Watching the guys discover and revel in their abilities never gets old, and the “rules” of the film open up a lot of fresh opportunities as the friends grow stronger and more capable – resulting in increasingly interesting super-power sequences, as well as a lot of fun nods to traditional superhero source material. That said, while the movie presents plenty of cool visuals, it is Chronicle‘s dedication to its characters and their experiences that truly elevates the experience. The end result is a surprisingly charming and humorous ride for the majority of the proceedings.
As mentioned, the overarching narrative arc is also pretty dark and touches on some disturbing elements that could be challenging for some moviegoers expecting a more whimsical superhero film. Andrew endures a number of realistic bullying and abuse scenarios – which are not at all understated. While it’s unfair to criticize a PG-13 film for being “dark,” events in the third act do come fast and furious, representing a pretty sharp shift in tone that some viewers might not feel is entirely “earned” – even if the proceedings are believable and successfully grounded in the larger storyline.
Though some of the character moments might prove to be too intense for younger superhero enthusiasts, Chronicle offers an intense and riveting finale that is on par with plenty of bigger budget action films. The use of camera phones, security footage, and police surveillance tapes might seem like a hokey way to showcase the final climactic moments of the film, but surprisingly that doesn’t actually distract from the strength or success of the final set piece. There’s no doubt that Chronicle will raise the bar for visual spectacle in future found-footage movies.
Director Josh Trank, paired with a cast of likable actors, has definitely proved potential naysayers wrong – Chronicle is not a genre mash-up cash grab. Due to some truly creative thinking and intriguing cinematography, the filmmaking team has shown that “found-footage” doesn’t have to be relegated to thin story lines and flat characters who do nothing more than move audiences from jump scare to jump scare. Chronicle isn’t just a unique found-footage movie or superior superhero film, it’s a truly enjoyable blend of the best each genre has to offer.
Ben Moore blogs at Screen Rant.