With so many superhero movies out this year, it’s forgivable to have overlooked Chronicle due to its minimal amount of advertising and maybe because it is filmed in handheld format which, more often that not, strives for style over substance. Fortunately, director James Trank delivers both in the first must see movie of 2012.
The main focus of the story lies with Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a typical high school nerd who is not only bullied at school, but has a pretty rough home life. His dad is an abusive alcoholic and his mother is bedridden with an illness that is slowly but surely killing her; the handheld aspect of filming is due to Andrew deciding to film his every action for his mother before she passes away. After reluctantly agreeing to go to a rave with his cousin Matt (Alex Russel) and a classmate Steve (Michael B. Jordan), they venture away from the party and into a cave, where they find a glowing rock, but before any more investigation can occur, the cave collapses and the camera cuts out. A few days later, the boys discover that they have telekinetic powers, so they all vow to use their powers for good and to help out the community. Nah, of course they don’t; they do what any young adult would do: use their new found skills to pull off hilarious pranks. But it’s not long before they discover that the more they use their abilities, the stronger they become, and with Andrew’s home and social lives getting worse, his desire to explore what he is really capable of becomes catastrophic.
The lead actors are relatively new to the acting scene, yet have still managed to snag parts in hit TV series such as True Blood, In Treatment and (most impressively, and I say that with no bias whatsoever) The Wire. Their performances here are fantastic, and the chemistry between the three is realistic and natural. A lot of time is spent conveying how the power affects each person individually, rather than the power itself and it makes the outstanding third act all the more understandable. Remember last year’s installment of the Final Destination series, and how one of the actors looked uncannily like Tom Cruise? Well we’ve got another doppelganger here, in the form of Dane DeHaan, who has the same face as Leonardo DiCaprio did in Titanic. Useless info, but I challenge you to not see the resemblance now that I’ve mentioned it.
What impressed me the most about Chronicle was the imaginative methods employed to maintain a voyeuristic look. The camera may be a handheld one, and the majority of scenes are filmed from one of the characters POV (except for the finale, which I’ll get to in a moment) but Trank ingeniously takes the camera out of their hands by having Andrew lift it with his mind which adds a whole new level of creative control. In some scenes, we’re shown all three characters at one time, much like a conventional film but with the knowledge that it’s far from it. We’re shown the climatic final scenes through any and every camera that’s in the city: whether that be an iPad, CCTV, a police car fitting with recording equipment or simply a passer by filming the carnage. There’s a few scenes where the explanation as to why it’s being filmed in this manner is a little flimsy (in particular, when Matt visits a girl he’s crushing on, and she just so happens to have a camera set up to film whoever knocks on her door) but overall this is by far the most visually original shaky-cam film of the last few years.
With a budget of a mere $15 million, it’s nothing short of astounding as to what Trank and his visual effects team have done with such a small amount of money. Of course, a few of the visuals look a little sketchy, but strangely it’s only in the effects which I would have thought were a little simpler to create where it’s noticeable such as the talent show sequence or when they first experiment with their powers and Lego. But explosions, smoke and the stunning flight scenes are all wholly believable.
Chronicle is a film of two halves, with both being gloriously enjoyable. The first, where they discover what they can do, is frequently hilarious and displays exactly what most people would do if they had superpowers. It also lets us see into each of the character’s personalities, which is vitally important for the second act. The second half is tense, explosive and unpredictable, much like Andrew, whose decline is frightening to watch. The closing scenes may come off as a little too sentimental for some but, in my opinion, were very fitting.