PLOT: Three high school seniors find themselves suddenly bestowed with superhero-like powers. Unlike most superheroes, they use this power not for saving people, but for having fun. They pull pranks, impress girls and go on flying joyrides. As they test their newfound powers, they become close friends...until one of them begins to lose control.
REVIEW: Found footage films have gotten a bad rap over the past year and this is not necessarily because the format is flawed but because the format is being used poorly by bad movies. This is not the case with CHRONICLE, a smart, fun, lean and mean twist on a superhero movie.
Both the superhero origin story and the found footage film have each been done so often - and, frankly, so poorly - that the idea of yet another attempt at each barely registers on the Richter scale of interest. Yet somehow a movie that is both a found footage movie and a superhero origin story manages to inject new and exciting life in each genre.
As the tagline goes, the film subverts the old Uncle Ben maxim and watches what happens when with great power comes no responsibility. Instead of a noble Peter Parker looking to fight crime, the three teenagers in CHRONICLE blessed with a superhuman form of telekinesis use their newfound powers the way you'd expect a bunch of actual teenagers to. They fuck with people at the mall, impress friends at the school talent show and pick up drunk chicks at parties.
Like CLOVERFIELD before it, CHRONICLE is an old story done with a new twist. The story here is hardly groundbreaking - it is essentially X-MEN meets AKIRA - but in its execution, first-time director Josh Trank creates a film that seems fresh despite an air of familiarity.
The film follows Andrew (Dane DeHaan), the dorky one, who sets up the found footage format when he buys an old video camera to turn the tables on his abusive father. But unlike CLOVERFIELD, where the steady-handed cinematography of Hud always felt artificial, Trank and writer Max Landis find a clever hook to assist in the filmmaking.
It starts with Andrew and another high school girl who shoots video for her blog (one of the few things that rang false) using their cameras to tell the story. But as the film progresses, Andrew upgrades his camera and, with his powers, floats it around himself as if he were the star of his own perverse reality TV show. He's a kid who never had any reason to feel good about himself and now, as his ego grows out of control, he documents his own every step. This gives Trank the ability to free Andrew from behind the camera, allowing audiences to better connect with the character that serves as both the hero and the villain. And in the film's third act, when the scope of the film grows exponentially, the use of security cameras, news footage and amateur cell phone video are all spliced in to add to the storytelling.
But all the fancy found footage gimmicks would be for naught if the movie didn't work. Because this film isn't beholden to years of comic mythology and demanding fanboys, Trank and Landis are able to craft the story on their own terms. In this film, they haven't just created archetypes, but actual characters we can believe in. They're not always "good" but that's why we can connect with them.
DeHaan, here looking eerily like a GILBERT GRAPE era Leonardo DiCaprio, crackles as the weakest of the bunch (he's neither as smart nor as popular as his partners) who all-too-quickly becomes the strongest of the bunch. His co-stars, Michael B. Jordan and Alex Russell, both deliver solid performances and the trio have the natural chemistry of high school friends. It feels so real sometime, the film seems somewhat hampered by its PG-13 rating.
Because Trank has Andrew essentially working the camera himself, we never have to worry about Shaky Cam Syndrome, and this allows the action to shine in an impressive third act in downtown Seattle. The movie reportedly cost only $15 million but you'd never know it as you're watching the shit go down.
In many ways, CHRONICLE manages to be completely original and thrilling while not necessarily being anything new at all. In an era when many superhero films have become turgid and stale, CHRONICLE reminds us why we love the genre to begin with.