An impressive, unique and inventive superhero tale that needs to be seen.
Anyone who says the ‘found-footage’ or ‘mockumentary’ genre of filmmaking is dead just needs to have a quick look at ‘Chronicle’. Taking the format to new heights (literally) by blending it into a teenage superhero story, it’s an inventive and exciting film that might just be the sleeper hit of the year.
The film follows three teenage high school friends who one night discover a crack in the ground and a mysterious figure underneath it upon further exploration, which ends up giving all three of them telekinesis powers. At first, they all begin to test their powers by playing pranks on unsuspecting people and discovering their potential. But all the fun and games come to a stop when they begin to realize that one of them may be slowly using it for a far sinister purpose.
Newcomer filmmaker Josh Trank helms the film based on an original script by Max Landis, and it’s especially notable not only because this doesn’t feel like a first-time effort at all but also that it’s extremely rare that Hollywood makes a superhero movie not based off an existing property. Sure, it does have a few inspirations mainly from ‘Akira’ and hints of ‘Cloverfield’ but the plot itself is largely original. But the first thing you’ll notice is how fleshed out it is as a screenplay. The characters are well developed for the most part especially the character of Alex who’s shown as a bullied young man from the outset. You can just see from the first scene with his daddy issues and abuse that he’s the kind of guy who will just flip out one fine day and wreak havoc. What if a guy like that gets superpowers? It’s an intriguing question and the progression of events beautifully show the state of mind of the character constantly changing and his ideologies evolving into something dangerous. All this has to be chalked up to surprisingly deep character development with not only the characters learning something and changing by the end of the film but there’s also a message here. A superhero movie like this could easily have been a mindless entertainer filled with CGI and action but the filmmakers decided to tell a genuine story instead and it pays off in droves.
Found footage is usually seen as a gimmicky way to tell a story and there are movies that go to great lengths make sure that the film looks authentic from the camera filming it. ‘Chronicle’, however, doesn’t go that far and this actually works in its favor. On one hand, there is not one moment in the movie that breaks the illusion that the scenes are being filmed by some sort of recording device and applause to the filmmakers for really keeping to that promise and putting in that extra effort. At the same time, it doesn’t remain constricted to the format and has fun with it by taking some creative liberties. Instead of the frantic shaky filming for the most part, the director opts for some very inventive ways of making the film more traditional in filming style by coming up with a near-genius way to do so – the main character of the movie is fond of filming things and once he gets superpowers, he decides to levitate the camera around him to film the events of the film. This leads to some excellent memorable sequences including the flying sequence which is not only breathtaking to watch because the camera is hovering around them, but also very fresh and unique in what it tries to achieve. The long one-cut conversation scenes are riveting to watch because of the way they are filmed and add a lot more drama to the scenes. The finale in particular is fascinating because even though destruction is taking place, the movie tries to stretch limits of believability by having some sort of camera filming whatever happens – whether it’s an iPad or a security camera or a handicam. It’s sometimes ridiculous to think who would have collected all of that footage together but it’s a fun way to tell the story for sure.
Speaking of the finale, the entire movie builds up to quite a powerful finale to say the least. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but the last 20 minutes of the film are not only impactful but are enough to satisfy most action fans and remind you a lot of ‘Carrie’ and ‘Cloverfield’ at times (which is a good thing). Though the film works with a rather modest budget, this is the portion of the movie that looks as good as any other big budget summer movie in terms of spectacle. Some may have hoped for it to go a little further than it does in terms of destruction, but I think it stops just short of being overblown. Even the effects in this part are very believable and realistic, but sadly that can’t be said to some of the effects earlier in the film. There’s something about even the simplest ball-juggling effects and levitation effects that don’t ring true probably because the budget constraints and the found-footage style don’t exactly gel together here. Some more polish to the film in this section would have been better. Another thing that the film lacks is that it underuses the character of Steve who had an interesting backstory to him but is a character that was eventually set aside in favor of the main characters. Acting is a strong suit of the film, though. Every single actor of the movie gives a very strong performance and particular mention goes to Dane DeHaan who gives a terrifying, evil but sometimes tragic performance of a young man descending into darkness.
But ‘Chronicle’ is definitely a must-watch for anyone looking for a smart and effective action thriller that’s also unique and manages to excite you despite dozens of lame found-footage movies that have been hitting shelves lately. Found-footage is not dead, it’s only the filmmakers’ imagination that fails to come alive. And ‘Chronicle’ is an example of a super-powered film that surprises.
Rating – 8 out of 10.