The found footage genre has primarily been filled with horror or thriller entries. It makes sense. The immediacy and intimacy of the work can lend itself incredibly well to an intense setting, at least when the film is successful. Which isn’t that often. So, it is a surprise that the latest found footage film is neither horror nor thriller, but the superhero origin film Chronicle. Does this blending of genres prove a winning combination?
Chronicle follows the exploits of three high school guys as they come to grips with the superhuman abilities bestowed upon them after an encounter with a seemingly otherworldly object in an underground cavern. Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the popular guy, has a light-hearted approach and sees nothing but fun in their newfound talents. Philosophical and ponderous Matt (Alex Russell) often preaches caution and responsibility. Finally, there’s Andrew (Dane DeHaan), the good-natured boy contending with a terminally-ill mother, a physically-abusive father, and the scorn of most of his peers. He is the most talented with the powers, picking them up with a natural-born ease. He is also the most dangerous, with a fragile psyche that could break at any moment. It is his camera that mostly chronicles their tale; the good, the bad, the highlights, and the tragedies.
The story told in Chronicle doesn’t break any new ground, nor do the characters break the mold for what we’ve come to expect in origin stories. However, it is the quality of the work from everyone involved that elevates this film to greatness. Max Landis’ script is smart, sophisticated, and bold. It dares to focus on the characters over their powers, and the film benefits greatly from it. You genuinely care for these guys, and you believe in their friendship. This wouldn’t mean much if the performances weren’t up to the task, but it is a pleasure to report that all three of the leads deliver star-making turns in their respective roles. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan are all to be commended for their excellent portrayals of the trio. It is glorious to witness them harnessing their powers, reveling in the freedom and escape it provides. It is also painful as we helplessly witness events and bad decisions force them into conflict and chaos.
Normally, found footage films don’t distinguish themselves when it comes to presentation or editing. The idea is to make them feel homemade and gritty. Chronicle once again proves itself outside the norm as it produces some genuinely striking moments and well-constructed shots. An early conceit introduced in the film involving holding the cameras using telekinesis allows for a more steady frame, which in turn allows the audience to focus on what is happening in the frame instead of how it is being presented. Director Josh Trank has made a stunning theatrical debut that hopefully will have an effect on future entries in this genre.
At the end of the day, Chronicle is simply a force to be reckoned with. It is smart, thought-provoking, and daring entertainment. It manages to tell an exciting story of young men discovering superpowers whilst also exploring serious issues such as abuse, bullying, and personal responsibility. It blows away most of the competition, whether we are speaking of found footage films or superhero movies. It is an unexpected gem that should not be missed by anyone looking for a good time at the movies.