director Josh Trank
What would the average teenager do if s/he suddenly developed telekinetic superpowers? Test their strength? Fly? Prank people? Get revenge on the world for their incessant bullying and ultimately try to destroy Seattle?
Chronicle is shot in the style of what I refer to as faux found-footage, an inexpensive style of film production in which the whole thing is made to look as though it was shot by the characters in the film and later cobbled together by (someone?) Given the abundance of video-capable devices out in the world today, it reflects to some extent that pervasiveness (not to mention the phenomenon of YouTube videos), but it also offers a sense of verity. So cheaply shot, all hand-held and jiggly, that when a sudden effect happens, it seems that much more shocking. It’s far from original. They’ve been using in in television commercials for some time now too.
If anything, Chronicle starts with a bit more of a plausible point in its “documentation” aspect of this style. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) gets a camera to start documenting his father’s abusive behavior towards him and starts taking the camera with him everywhere, winding up showing how he’s basically bullied in every aspect of his life. What’s interesting is that as Andrew develops his telekinetic powers, it enables him to not have to hold the camera anymore. He can make it float around, above, around, all over, much like a master cinematographer or someone with the ability to digitally fake it good. This frees the story up from needing to work around “filming” itself for a number of scenes.
But I have to say, I think it’s ultimately a bit of a drag on the film as a whole. A more traditionally filmed movie, with certain video inserts (shot by the teens) could have worked just as well, if not better. I’ve stated how tired I am of films that are shot in this mode. It’s a trend well-played out and yet still looks far from over. That said, who knows, maybe some films will start to break with it somehow and still maintain it in other ways. It all makes you yearn for a James Wong Howe or a Christopher Doyle, using the camera both aesthetically but powerfully.
Oddly enough though, Chronicle is a lot better than many of its peers. It’s a story about teenagers, friends, who get infused with crazy power and then start to lose control of themselves. Andrew’s buddies, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the school jock class president, Steve (Michael B. Jordan) are the more popular kids who also get imbued with weird energy. And the story and the acting make it work. The “verity” comes not from the camera but from the story and the performances by the trio (DeHaan is particularly good as the outsider who winds up channeling all the negativity in his life outwardly into destruction.) And there are elements of the pranks and games the boys play with their newfound powers that seem so totally likely. There is some kernel of believability to this far-fetched science fiction flick.
I’d read a number of positive reviews that said that Chronicle was a surprisingly effective teen film. And I’d agree. While Super 8 (2011) skewed to a younger teen, I’d place Chronicle as one of the best films about teenagers that I’ve seen in recent years. And all that despite my dislike for the overall style.