Friday, 17 February 2012

Chronicle (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

The found footage technique has been done to death, killed by low-budget horror movies with a lack of imagination to match. We’ve said this before when Troll Hunter came out and we were proved wrong by that barmy monster chasing fake-doc. Now here comes Chronicle, a low-budget superhero fable that takes the found-footage genre and gives it a shot in the arm.

High-schooler Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a depressed loner whose only company are his video camera and his cool cousin Matt (Alex Russell). When Andrew, Matt, and their friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) stumble across a glowing rock in a hole in the ground they start developing telekinesis. As they enjoy flexing and developing their powers, the fragile Andrew becomes torn between the right thing and finally having some control.

What Chronicle uses to revitalise the found-footage genre more than anything is decent storytelling. Writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank clearly know their comic book history, and there’s more than a dash of Akira and Brian K. Vaughan’s The Runaways here. But they take the time to develop the three characters and give them room to convincingly bond as a group of friends before things reach a climax in the third act. The film is mostly told from Andrew’s perspective and the film opens with scenes of his horrible home life with his loving dying mother and drunken abusive father. It only breaks from Andrew’s camera’s perspective occasionally which is more and more important as the film progresses.

It’s always nice to see a superhero movie that shows the characters actually having fun with their powers, and the high-school setting is the perfect setting for that. It’s tremendously entertaining watching these three likeable teens develop their powers, from hurling baseballs at each other’s faces and trying to stop them to actually flying. The high school setting also adds another dimension to Andrew’s character, as his power gives him the confidence to come out of his shell.

Refreshingly, there are no po-faced title cards telling us that the film is based on real events. There’s also some dialogue from the characters that acts as justification from the filmmakers for the use of found-footage. It’s nothing that wasn’t discussed in The Blair Witch Project, but it’s not too clunky and shows that there was a thought process beyond “found footage is hot right now.”

The three leads are all likeable and believable and they make a great group. The most recognisable face is Jordan, who fans of The Wire will recognise as Wallace from the first series. DeHaan (In Treatment) gets the lion’s share of the drama, but is ably backed up by Russell who gets more to do as the film develops. Michael Kelly (The Adjustment Bureau) is also convincingly awful as Andrew’s horrible father.

We were sceptical when we saw the trailer but Chronicle overcame our prejudices and we can, with some surprise, recommend this entertaining action thriller.

A very good comic book movie that’s not based on a comic book, Chronicle uses the exhausted found-footage genre to great effect.



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