So what’s the story of Chronicle? We have Andrew, a young teenage outcast who one day decides to film and document everything in his life, from his high school to his life at home. Soon he, his cousin Matt and a popular student Steve encounter a mysterious crater in the middle of the woods. Entering the hole they develop telekinetic powers a few weeks later. They develop a friendship through their new powers and at first use it for fun and games until Andrew, the strongest of the three … well… seeing that he’s a teenage outcast with a not-so-happy life and his powers are slowly growing stronger and stronger… yeah, you can smell bad news form there.
The direction of this film is unbelievable, especially regarding the fact that this is Josh Trank’s debut as a film director AND that he was 26 when he directed this AND that they had a short budget of 15 million dollars! Try to say that all at once out loud! Even for a film with a short budget, they really take advantage of the special effects and the film overall looks very good.
One of the reasons this film works so well is the believable atmosphere created by the three main protagonists. They’re believable, compelling and likeable, so we can identify with them and also feel like we are actually standing there with them. When they laugh, we laugh along with them. When tension rises, we get as worried as they do. It’s very easy to care about what will happen to these three characters. They don’t start out as close friends at first, but as they learn how to develop and control their powers, they have something only they can share with each other and believably become friends. We also feel very sympathetic over our main protagonist Andrew, having a mother slowly dying from cancer and an abusive father. We really understand his struggle throughout the film and his reasons for his darker side to emerge. So Chronicle works very well on making us connect to these characters and care about them.
It isn’t really called a found footage film, but more camera perspective film (so I’m just gonna call it POV-camera film), as we the audience see the events from multiple recording devices, from phones to CCTV cameras, but primarily it’s shown through Andrew’s hand-held cameras. This is used not only used well on the technical side of things, but also as a very powerful storytelling device. There’s a good reason why this film is a POV camera in the first place. Not just so that the film would look good, but also to complement the story and narrative. For example, the first camera that Andrew uses is a low-definition camera until it’s destroyed from the event in the woods early in the film. He later replaces it with an HD camera for the rest of the movie when he and his two new friends gets his new powers. On the narrative level this represents the division between watching the film from Andrew’s point of view as a vulnerable and weak ‘low quality self’, per se, into watching the film of an Andrew who’s more powerful and ‘high quality’. That was very clever and a really nice touch! Another inventive aspect on the whole POV camera sub-genre is that Andrew often practices his telekinesis on his camera, giving us more unique and unusual angles and shots in the film.
We won’t agree with Andrew all the time, but we will understand clearly why he does what he does when we spend time with him. We primarily see the events through Andrew’s cameras and in a way we become the camera. The more he spends time with the camera and the more he develops his powers, the more Andrew slowly starts to understand himself on a deeper level. Probably the reason why Andrew wanted to document his life in the first place was because he hoped that someone would want to understand him and see his life through his perspective. Maybe he’s even doing this so that he can leave something of himself behind the camera. In the film, he often refuses to let go of the camera when people as him to stop recording, meaning that this has become an obsession to Andrew. Not to give anything away, but by the end of the film he has entirely become his camera (symbolically, not literally… you know what I mean). Again, this is very inventive and clever. As far as the POV-camera films, this is probably the most unique in comparison to films like The Blair Witch Project.
Putting aside the POV camera attribute of the film, we have a superhero formula, but very different in its execution, bringing up an important issue about ourselves socially and psychologically. A lot of us wonder how it’d be like to become superheroes and sometimes fantasize about it. People like this prospect sometimes due to the desire of doing something that no one else can or something amazing without even trying, like in Limitless where you swallow a pill that will make you super-smart without even trying. Sometimes it’s due to that wish of being more powerful or being unique by doing or having something above everyone else. Chronicle explores the more realistic and almost frightening side of that particular fantasy. The three boys start out by playing pranks on others, until an accident on the road makes them re-think their actions. It’s easy to imagine flying or having super strength, but nonetheless it’s an outrageous idea. What WOULD you do if you really did have telekinesis or any other superpower? Often in fiction it’d be “save the world” but it’s actually impossible to think about it realistically. We honestly wouldn’t know what to do. In fact, would we even become a superhero or a supervillain? The only way to find out is if it really happened to us. How would it change us? How would it affect our lives and other people’s lives? I love how this film explores this idea.
As for the narrative itself, the tension does build progressively just as their powers start to develop further and further. Without giving away too much of the plot, the story gradually builds up the tension as their telekinesis grows little by little, which leads up to an exiting battle and a thrilling climax. It builds up our excitement until the end of the film. The only flaw I could ever find was that Matt has this love interest that just so happens to be carrying a camera for her video blog. It seems just like another excuse to add an extra camera there, but personally that’s the only problem I actually found and it’s not a very distracting problem. The rest of the positives surpass any nitpick of the film, little there may be.
For my first film of 2012, I have to say that it’s definitely a great start of the year. I highly enjoyed this film and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to find a great film this year. This is an engaging and deep film which is probably going to be regarded as a classic years from now. Director Josh Tank was 26 when he directed this film. Steven Spielberg was 28 when he directed Jaws and Orson Welles was about 26 when he directed Citizen Kane. Who knows? Maybe in the future Tank will become regarded as one of those top films directors. Last thing I have to say is that Chronicle is a fantastic start to his career and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future.