Chronicle

Chronicle

B

Over the past few years, there have been three subgenres and film styles that have been becoming increasingly popular: the fake-doc found footage film, the origin story and the super-hero existing in the real world film. Josh Trank’s Chronicle attempts to meld all three of these film subgenres together, and, for the most part, the individual pieces of this equation are as satisfactory as we’ve seen.

Chronicle follows three high school students who encounter a mysterious force which has given them incredible powers, such as the ability to manipulate objects with their minds and the ability to fly. The film uses the standard superhero origin story to show the progression of powers becoming stronger and making the decisions of how they should use them (in this particular instance, no superhero responsibility speeches are had, other than a few rules about not harming living things, etc.).

The most interesting idea in the film comes with Andrew, who is really our main focus of the film, a sad loner who stumbles upon his powers. We’ve seen many characters like him throughout comics and superhero films, Peter Parker as the main example. Like Peter, Andrew is bullied, doesn’t have a lot of friends and has a number of serious family problems. After Andrew has developed his incredible powers, he goes the rout we see in Spider-Man. Since the film’s a darker take on this story, though, Andrew quickly uses his newfound powers as a way to punish those in his way — and with a little freshman-level philosophy about survival of the fittest, to boot. In all, this is a more realistic take on a real-life world where super-human powers exist. Though the film doesn’t really delve into this idea, I can see subtext looking back at school shootings which mirror the situation in the film. I find the film a little troubling here, though, as it’s pretty easy to root for Andrew taking revenge, even when he is an obvious villain.

The most prominent subgenre Chronicle takes on is the found footage film — a stylistic imprint on cinema that has brought some of the worst films of the past few years, including the early favorite for worst film of 2012, The Devil Inside. The major problem many of these films has is not taking their filmmaking seriously. If you are going to establish the rules of having a found footage or fake documentary film, you have to stick to those rules. For example, a decent film, The Last Exorcism, previously the best example of the genre, sloppily breaks its rules by having multiple camera angles in a conversation scene when there is only one camera in the film. Chronicle does a great job keeping with the stylistic restraints of this genre — in some ways to genius effect, in other ways with a measure of cop out. Though the film doesn’t present itself from the future, looking back at these events (the film’s trailer does this, but the film doesn’t in so many actions), toward the final action scenes, we see perspectives from a number of different cameras out in the real world — security cameras, fake news footage, etc. Less cleverly, the film introduces another character, a young woman and love interest of our three protagonists, who films “everything” for her blog. She is little more than a device than to be able to capture other perspectives of the action, but I can excuse this for the filmmakers simply sticking to the rules of the genre.

The only reason I wasn’t totally blown away by Chronicle is its lackluster script. That’s not to say that the characters, overall story and dialogue aren’t well-written, but the film is incredibly predictable at every turn. Also, the movie wraps up a little too nicely — ending with one of the characters fulfilling a promise made to his friends. It is hard to make an argument for a film with this much potential trying to set up yet another franchise, but I think there is a lot of fertile ground that could have been plowed, such as: what was the real cause of these powers (the scene where the three boys come across the mysterious crater and discover something really interesting is COMPLETELY dropped)? Were others affected? If the film is successful, the studios may try to work in another sequel anyway, but since the film seems to shut itself off, any more films will come off completely as cash-grabs.

My biggest takes from Chronicle are that there is some life in the found footage genre, though it probably reaches its heights, and that Josh Trank is a filmmaker to look out for. With a pretty small budget and a young, inexperienced cast, Trank made a film with incredible visuals and a lot of interesting ideas (even if some of them didn’t totally play out). The acting was solid, the action and characters compelling. If the rumors prove to be true and Trank is off to helm a Fantastic Four reboot, I’ll be excited. He may just be able to bring a little more pathos to a film series that was the worst kind of superhero film fluff.

tags: chronicle, josh trank

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  • Anonymous

    See if you can pick up what I’m laying down: do you think perhaps Trank SET OUT to make the ultimate found footage movie? Maybe that’s why he called it “Chronicle,” a title which definitely applies more to that genre than anything superhero-y. 

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    Sure, that’s possible, since the presence of a camera is a very big part of the narrative. I think it was more that he just thought about the strengths and weaknesses of the form and paid attention to his filmmaking. Because making a found footage film is “easy” to do — doesn’t take a lot of personal style, lighting, good acting, good sound, etc — I think they are usually just made as quickly and cheaply as possible. I would say more that Trank simply put in more effort.

  • Anonymous

    But why the name, then? Is there an in-story reason? 

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    Not totally. The main character, Andrew, at the beginning of the film says that he’s going to start recording everything. That’s basically it.

  • Anonymous

    Well, that’s something. I still think it’s kind of an interesting meta-title tho.

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