Review: Chronicle

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The Pitch: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Not sure. Don’t worry, I got it on video…

The Review: The Back To The Future series may not have got too much right in its vision of the future, but one thing it did predict was the importance of the video camera in the lives of 21st century people. A good proportion of us now carry one around in our pocket – I’m technically writing this review on one, thanks to Steve Jobs and co – so the concept of someone videoing every minute detail of their daily lives seems less and less incredible with each passing year. That said, the found footage genre, as it’s become known, would seem to suggest that anyone who’s become so obsessed with cataloguing their teeth brushing or bowel movements is likely to meet a sticky end. Consequently, most examples of the genre have stuck to horror up to now, but Chronicle takes the genre in an entirely different direction: science fiction.

Chronicle tells the tale of three teenage boys (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan) who are brought together thanks to a mysterious event, finding something in a hole in the ground (which of course they just happen to video). Following their collective experience, they seem to have developed the ability of telekinesis. While they initially use their powers for pranks and cheap tricks, as their powers grow, so does their potential. But Andrew, the shyest of the group, has problems other than his unique teenage troubles, and a sick mother and an abusive father might do more than to just keep him grounded.

While the change of genre might initially be the element that would seem to set Chronicle apart from its contemporaries in the field, it’s actually the domestic situation that the boys find themselves in that makes Chronicle a more rounded proposition. Rather than simply a sequence of events captured on camera, there’s a depth of emotion and character development so often missing from the more linear predecessors of home video drama. Believable motivations and unexpected turns in the plotting are also afforded by the number of different perspectives; indeed, Chronicle might be better considered to be a composed footage film rather than a found footage one, with every possible video camera in the vicinity rather than just a single viewpoint used to tell the story. The effect of this is just a tad distracting when the boys keep running into people who also just so happen to be videoing their lives, but by the latter stages there are plenty of other cameras in play, and not only is their inclusion often ingenious but it simultaneously avoids the Shakycam that so often blights found footage but you’ll also forget about the gimmick once you’re immersed in the drama.

The cast might be relative unknowns, a couple having had moderate profile TV roles, but they all perform admirably and deal with the shifts in mood. The real success of Chronicle is that it feels like a fully developed drama that just happens to have been recorded on video cameras, but the nature of the filming is integral to the success. There are moments when Chronicle soars, both literally and figuratively, and it captures a sense of wonder and fulfillment that’s so often missing from superhero films with bigger budgets. But it’s also not afraid to explore darker places, and the likes of Burton-era Batman and Raimi-era Spider-Man had occasional aspirations to be this dark, but never managed it with anything close to this level of success. Director Josh Trank and writer Max “son of John” Landis have both marked themselves out as talents to watch, although I hope they have slightly more success with endings than they have here, the only false note being a tacked on final scene. Right, I’m off to imagine what Back To The Future would have been like as a found footage film

Why see it at the cinema: This is found footage played out on a vast canvas, so you’d be best to see it on a vast canvas, ideally one with lots of seats in front of it.

The Score: 9/10

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