Theatrical Review: Chronicle

Andrew Detmer is a very troubled young man.  His father, a former firefighter who’s lost his job due to injury, gets drunk and lashes out at him.  His mother is bed-ridden and dying a slow death.  Andrew is constantly being pushed around at school with his only real friend being his cousin, Matt Garetty.  Andrew has begun to keep a video chronicle of his life for unstated reasons, though one could assume it’s for a number of things, and begins to carry around a video camera constantly, which of course gets him pushed around even further.  Matt wants Andrew to come out of his shell and go to a party, though he tries to get Andrew to leave the camera home, but to no avail.  After a series of mishaps at the party, Andrew finds himself alone outside, when he’s approached by Steve Montgomery, a fellow classmate who’s running for class president.  Steve and Matt have found something very strange out in a back field and they want Andrew to come and film it.  What they discover is something mysterious in origin that gives the three superpowers.

That’s the premise to Chronicle a new movie from first time feature director Josh Trank and it’s written by Trank and Max Landis, who’s the son of director John Landis.  To be perfectly honest, I was only slightly interested in this by seeing it’s trailer.  It’s trailer presented itself as a “found footage” movie, but I didn’t find altogether that much to grab me by it other than that.  In addition, it seems like over the last couple of years, there’s been this trend to start the year off with some movies that tell stories about young people who have superpowers.  Movies like Jumper, Push and I Am Number Four have followed, and while I haven’t seen I Am Number Four I’ve seen the other two and didn’t much care for either of them.  So I was somewhat hesitant to see Chronicle.

And now I thank goodness that I did… Chronicle is just fantastic filmmaking, a real evolution of the “found footage” genre, and a story that absolutely gets everything right in it’s presentation of young people with superpowers.  One thing that I thought some of the above-mentioned efforts seriously lacked were appealing characters.  Based on the initial trailer for Chronicle, I thought it was going to do the same, but that’s not the case at all.  Right from the start, Trank and Landis get you invested in Andrew, and as the movie builds, I really found myself liking Andrew, Matt and Steve a great deal and really giving a damn about what happens to them next.

Though Chronicle can be described as a “found footage” movie, it really moves everything up another level.  Other films like this present themselves as a documentary, but this goes to a different place and once the trio get their powers, it adds in a new wrinkle that makes it’s presentation even more effective.  Things get even more interesting later in the film during it’s terrific final twenty minutes, when it then incorporates security camera footage and footage shot by another character, Casey- a video blogger who becomes Matt’s romantic interest.  This presentation is just fantastic and Trank really knows how to use it effectively.

Then there’s the actual use of the powers themselves… Compared to other films, Chronicle is certainly a lower-budgeted piece.  There’s something that seems a little more raw to the visual effects here, but combined with the way the film is shot, it’s really effective and absolutely feels real.  I don’t know for sure, but I’d certainly guess that both Trank and Landis have to be real fans of the genre and it feels like there’s tips of the hat to such pieces at Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Alan Moore’s Miracleman comics, and for a comics fan like myself, it’s nice to see these nods.

I really have to give the three young actors who play our leads huge kudos.  Dane DeHaan plays Andrew, Alex Russell plays Matt and Michael B. Jordan plays Steve and all three have their individual characteristics and also have great chemistry together.  As I said above, you care about these guys, they are lived-in characters and compelling to follow.  I really have to single out Dane DeHaan amongst the three as the guy to watch.  He’s absolutely terrific here and has the same qualities of a young Leonardo DiCaprio.  This kid’s got a real future ahead of him.

Chronicle is just one terrific movie.  Though it has a short running time (under 90 minutes), it gets a lot in and every scene counts.  Josh Trank has a terrific understanding of the “found footage” genre and pushes it forward in some very interesting and appealing ways.  Trank and Landis have created three characters that you care about and want to follow and their use of their superpowers (especially in the film’s final twenty minutes) are just thrilling to watch.  This is terrific stuff and of course, highly, highly recommended. Don’t miss Chronicle.