THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
If you find a weird, glowing object, make sure you touch it. You never know what might happen.
Chronicle fuses together the “found footage” genre and the superhero genre. It is the story of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a teenage outcast who is routinely bullied at school and abused by his alcoholic father. Andrew's only real friend is his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell). His mother, meanwhile, lays gravely ill, thereby making her unaware of the misery in his day-to-day life. To document his father's abuse, Andrew buys a video camera and installs it in his bedroom. This leads to him deciding to document his whole life. Matt drags him to a party one night, where the camera comes in handy. The most popular kid in school, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), discovers a giant hole in the ground behind the old farmhouse where the party is taking place. Steve wants to go in to investigate, and since the camera has a light attachment, he convinces Andrew and Matt to accompany him. Beneath the ground, they find a strange, glowing object to which they are hypnotically drawn.
After encountering the object, they don't remember what happened. They do, however, suddenly find themselves imbued with magical powers, including telekinesis and the ability to fly. At first, they do what all teenage boys would do: use their powers to pull pranks. But as their skills develop, they discover that they can do so much more. Things change when Andrew, tired of being bullied, starts to tap into his dark side. Suddenly, no one can mess with him – and he's determined to make sure that continues.
There is much I liked about Chronicle. The premise is cool, and there are some nifty special effects. Plus, it remains character-driven. In many found footage thrillers, the characters are secondary to the gimmick. Not here. Andrew, Matt, and Steve are fully developed, with concerns and ideas that feel realistic for teenagers. I also admired the plot's willingness to go to some dark places. In many superhero stories, the hero uses his powers for good. In this case, the abused and bullied Andrew goes the opposite direction, using his new skills to ward off anyone who tries to do him wrong. There's real pain there, which makes his story increasingly compelling. It starts off innocently, but once Andrew realizes that he automatically has the upper hand on anyone he doesn't like, his morals slowly start to slip away. It's cool how the movie turns that whole superhero origin story on its ear.
The action scenes are very well staged. Although reportedly a low-budget production, the visuals are first-rate, especially in the grand finale. Director Josh Trank finds creative ways to stage some of the action. A shot of a car falling off Seattle's Space Needle (filmed from the inside) is particularly dazzling. This is definitely a film that took me for a good ride.
My sole complaint – and it's fairly substantial – is that Chronicle totally did not need the found footage angle. The story and characters are strong enough that they could have supported a conventionally-photographed movie. The problem with found footage flicks is that they often become a slave to the concept; they have to keep devising reasons why the cameras continue to roll, even at points when most people would switch them off and set them down. Given that Andrew makes the camera float around so he doesn't have to hold it, the technique becomes even more pointless. The cameraman (so to speak) is in most of the shots anyway, so why even use it? Found footage movies are also, by nature, short. Chronicle runs a tidy 83 minutes. I think it would have been even better had it used a traditional storytelling format and expanded upon these characters' lives.
While that is definitely a drawback, Chronicle has enough that works for me to easily recommend it. This is an ingenuous, albeit imperfect, film that offers a compelling portrait of a teen who becomes power-hungry and vengeful. I might have loved it without the found footage nonsense. As it stands, I still found it very entertaining, both as character study and action picture.
( out of four)
Chronicle is rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.
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