February 1, 2012 5 Comments
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is not the most popular boy in school. Bullied by his classmates and beaten by his drunken ex-Fireman father at home, Andrew endeavours to chronicle his life with a newly acquired video camera. Talked into attending an extracurricular rave by his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), Andrew once again finds himself ostracised by his peers, leaving the party to clear spilt beer off of his camera only to be talked into filming a mysterious discovery for another student, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). Entering a nearby cave, the trio discover a strange, glowing structure which messes with their electronics and nearly buries them when the earth above them collapses. When their encounter leaves them with growing telekinetic abilities, however, Andrew finds that he is no longer at the bottom of society’s pecking order.
You might not have noticed, but 2012 looks to be more than a little superhero-heavy. With The Avengers, Spider-man and Batman set to battle it out for admits come summer, and films like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Dredd flanking the heavyweights, a newcomer such as Josh Trank’s fledgling Chronicle was always under threat of being lost in the deluge of capes and costumes. That Chronicle not only manages to impress in a cinematic landscape so saturated in superheroics, but also sets such a high bar for its better established peers to follow, is testament to the good work and talents of Trank and writer Max Landis as they endeavoured to find something new to say, and a novel way in which to say it.
While novel might not be the first word that jumps to mind when describing the found footage format at large, Chronicle manages to make the practice work for it, much in the same way that Troll Hunter did last year with its mocumentary tale of Norwegian conspiracy. Through a number of imaginative and innovative machinations, the cameras and characters are liberated from the usual hindrances of relegating one character offscreen with a barrier prop. Indeed, approximately three weeks are allowed to elapse in one cut between the acquisition and first display of the trio’s abilities, as Andrew sets about acquiring a replacement camera – just one manifestation of the filmmaker’s pursuit of realism.
Of course, it helps that Chronicle isn’t really a superhero movie after all. In a neat inversion of Kick-Ass‘ recent genre subversion, it is strictly all powers and no responsibility. Chronicle is the 28 Days Later of superhero movies, the word apparently as taboo to Trench as ‘zombie’ has become thanks to the likes of Danny Boyle. In fact, the film Chronicle most closely resembles is arguably manga masterpiece Akira (or, for slighly different – less fair – reasons, 2008 miss-step Jumper), with the trio’s relationship pushed front and centre – the newfound telekinetic powers just one element of a much deeper story. Indeed, after seeing Chronicle do it so well, I feel less strongly about ever seeing Akira realised in live action.
The three central performances are impeccable, with Dane DeHaan in particular impressing as the troubled Andrew. From passive victim to self-fashioned “apex predator”, the way in which DeHaan’s has executed his character’s development is note-perfect, the steady increase in foreboding he propagates proving one of the film’s crowning achievements. Russell and Jordan are similarly absorbing as the comparatively straight-cut but by no means less complex Matt and Steve. With early banter and camaraderie an absolute pleasure to watch, their hastily forged friendship soon fractures under pressure, aggravated by Andrew’s tumultuous and unhealthy home-life.
Sadly, while the welcome alchemy of found footage and indie superhero sensibilities might work beautifully for the majority of the film’s build up – the keen implementation such that you never question the logistics of the ever-present video camera – the two elements begin to jar as the story reaches its admittedly breath-taking climax. What once facilitated the audience’s immersion into toy store-set hi-jinx or the boys’ first flight suddenly becomes barrier-like as you are forced to watch the explosive finale from an assortment of poor quality sources at what is often a considerable distance.
Chronicle, then, probably the only quasi-superhero movie you’ll see this year to cleverly name-check Plato’s Analogy of the Cave, is a heck of a lot of fun. Admirable performances, jaw-dropping effects and a refreshing approach to an increasingly staid genre play in the film’s favour, with the sole criticism – a necessary evil – doing nothing to detract from the first hour’s indomitable success.