HOLLYWOOD cinema in the 21st century has seen a new trend emerge- the superhero film. In the years since Bryan Singer’s X-Men hit the big screen in 2000, the usual suspects of Superman and Batman have been joined by a deluge of others. Chronicle plays off that success, but attempts to take the tried and tested superhero formula in a different direction altogether.
The setup of Chronicle is that three American teenagers discover a mysterious object buried deep beneath the ground, their exposure to which brings them powerful telekinetic abilities. Subverting the usual origin story of how characters come to deal with their new found powers and become their superhero persona, Chronicle instead explores the question of human morality in this situation- what would someone do if they suddenly had powers far beyond human ability?
Max Landis’ screenplay (yes, son of John Landis) begins with Andrew (Dane DeHaan) setting up a camera as his abusive father threatens him from the other side of a locked door. The camera will become his constant companion, but also a defensive shield for a character that is uncomfortable with human interaction. First-time director, Josh Trank styles Chronicle like a social documentary, cutting between Andrew’s camera and camera phones, security cameras and any other source he can find. As Andrew’s powers develop, he begins to control the camera with his mind, leading to some astoundingly fluid and dynamic cinematography. Equally, the abilities of the boys provide the opportunity for some creative and generally stunning visual effects, although at times I would say these are pushed a little too far.
The amateur video angle also leads to a fun pastiche of MTV’s Jack-ass, as the three teenagers- Andrew, his cousin, Matt, and Steve- begin to harness their powers and do what boys would do if they got superpowers. But the film takes a dark turn when Andrew begins to abuse his powers, leading to a climactic showdown between the friends in which they total downtown Seattle. Their hitherto hidden abilities revealed for all to see.
Chronicle has a lot to recommend it, but equally there are plenty of flaws. While the constant physical presence of a camera in the film leads to a real visual dynamism, it is a strain to maintain and becomes a burden for the film rather than a creative tool. The character of Casey, for example, might as well be a walking video camera, because she serves little other purpose. Characterization generally, for a film that is gritty and realistic in style, is quite weak- Andrew aside- the other characters are shockingly one dimensional. Steve in particular is completely without shade.
Chronicle also lacks the conviction to go through with its premise. Setting up Andrew at the beginning as a put-upon loner with an abusive, alcoholic father and a chronically ill mother. The audience watches as he is bullied at school and humiliated by girls- it’s a tirade of emotional blackmail on Landis’ part. Ultimately though, Andrew’s choice is taken away from him as he descends into mania- calling himself “an apex predator”, he takes on a Magneto-like ego of predominance over the rest of humanity- and in the process the moral dilemma at the heart of the film is taken away also.
In the end Chronicle is a flawed, but original vision and isn’t that much better than the safe generic option that Marvel and Disney have been putting out?
Review By Richard Davis
CHRONICLE- THREE STARS