Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chronicle Documents the Rise of Evil

A little over a week ago my wife fractured her fibula while playing softball. Aside from the fact that I have been left to handle all of the household responsibilities, the really annoying aspect of this situation for my wife is the fact that she is confined to limited movement on crutches. It means that simple tasks can no longer be done without assistance. Even to move just a few feet requires complex planning. In many ways Chronicle feels like a film that is limited by its own technical crutches.

As a film about average people gaining super human powers, Chronicle is one of the more interesting entries in the genre in quite some time. It is one of the few superhero films that is an origin tale told from the perspective of the villain. The villain in question is Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a high school student who is bullied at both school and at home. To better deal with having a terminally ill mother and an abusive alcoholic father, Andrew resorts to documenting every aspect of his life on video. While at a party one night, Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and a fellow student, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), ask Andrew to film a hole they have found in a nearby field. After making a startling discovery underground the boys soon find themselves with telekinetic powers. Though their new found powers initially bring the three young men closer together, their friendship is threatened when Andrew’s emotional instability leads him down a much darker path.

Andrew’s need to document everything is both a blessing and a curse for the film. On one hand, this allows director Josh Trank the ability to give Chronicle a “found footage” feel. The viewer gets a first-hand look at what it would be like to have super powers. Many of the film’s most interesting moments arrive when the main characters are experimenting with their powers. The handheld camera style of filming also gives Trank a unique way to display some of the jaw dropping special effects sequences in the film. There are several “how did they do that?” moments that all culminate into one fantastic final battle sequence.

The downside to this technique is that Trank not only needs to find ways to capture events from different angles, but he must justify why they would be filming the scenes in the first place. While taking footage from cell phones, traffic cameras, etc makes sense in the final fight sequence, the same cannot be said for many of the other pieces of footage Trank uses. This is most evident when the film introduces a high school blogger, Casey Letter (Ashley Hinshaw), who is obsessed with recording material for her blog. While it is true we live in a self absorbed world, Casey serves no real purpose other than to be a second camera to provide additional footage. Which brings up another major issue with relying so heavily on the “found footage” technique and that is piecing the footage all together. There are numerous times when the question of “who actually put all of this footage together?” takes the viewer completely out of the film. It is hard to believe that local law enforcement, or anyone for that matter, would find the flirtation between Matt and Casey either interesting or important in light of everything else that occurs in the film.

Chronicle is a film that might have actually worked better had it just scrapped the found footage stuff all together. The script and performances are captivating enough to make the film successful without having to rely on the “found footage” style crutch. This is not to say that Chronicle is not a decent film, in fact there is much to enjoy throughout. If anything it is a film that will leave you somewhat divided. It has all the makings of a great superhero film, but its constant need to confine itself to the found footage aesthetics is what holds the film back from reaching its full potential.


  1. Good review CS. I really liked this flick because of the friendship that these three guys had together and just how realistic all of the superpowers looked with this found-footage aspect. Problem is, by the end of the film they start to go a tad overboard with that aspect and everything, but I was still riveted from start to finish.

    1. The only issue I had with the friendship arc is that it makes Andrew’s becoming pure evil seem a bit silly. While the parental aspect played a major role in his descent, Andrew calls out the only two friends he has as not being true friends. This is rather silly considering how well the other two had embraced Andrew as a friend up to that point.

  2. I was surprised that I liked this film. The trailer for it was misleading (in a bad way). The question of who put the footage together also crossed my mind, but I shrugged it aside. It was a movie about three guys getting telekinesis from a glowing rock, so if I made that leap, then I was able to make the additional leap that somehow we were being made privy to this footage.

  3. Good point, I guess it would not have been so noticeable had they not shown the blogger's point of view. It added nothing to the film for me.


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