by Steve Habrat
How refreshing it is to finally see a mockumentary blockbuster that doesn’t feel the need to be a horror film! Behold Chronicle, a mysterious, mean, and sometimes flawed mockumentary that chooses the route of superpowers rather than supernatural. The thanks should go to director Josh Trank and writer Mike Landis for thinking outside the box, attempting something different, and breaking some new ground within the genre. Similar to Cloverfield but without the big budget and monsters, Chronicle makes a whole lot out of very little and, boy, did it thrill the hell out of me. It also refuses to dumb itself down which causes it to be fairly thought provoking, psychological, and extremely driven to earn our respectable. Much of the success also falls on the shoulders of the unknown actors in front of the camera who pull off a naturalism that many of these films lack. It all comes together to shape a shocking final act that turns downtown Seattle into a battlefield.
Chronicle is told from the perspective of loner Adam (Played by Dane DeHaan), who sulks into the camera with circles under his eyes. He cares for his sick mother, who seems to adore every moment she gets to spend with him, and he avoids his alcoholic father’s rants and beatings. He begins documenting his day-to-day routine, taking his camera to school with him and capturing the hell he endures. He is the target of bullies, ignored by girls and most other kids, and many call him “creepy” when they see his camera. His only true friend is Matt (Played by Alex Russell), his cousin who consistently encourages him to come out of his shell and reluctantly looks over him. When Adam and Matt attend a secluded party, they go exploring in the woods with the popular kid at school Steve (Played by Michael B. Jordan) and they end up finding a strange cave-like hole in a clearing. They decide to explore the hole and make a mysterious alien-like discovery, which rubs off on them and as a result, they end up with telekinetic powers that they at first use for teenage pranks. Soon Adam begins sharpening the powers and he beings abusing his gift, which leads to a destructive and bloody showdown in the streets of Seattle between Matt and Adam.
Chronicle scores brownie points for putting us on the side of the villain, giving us insight into Adam’s evolution from loner with good intentions to a murderous antagonist. His descent into villainy is piteous and we do feel for him. Every victory he has is ruined for him and his father’s physical and mental abuse sends him over the edge. He begins to suspect that Steve isn’t truly his friend and rejects his friendly concerns. The result is multiple deaths and the creation of a monster that deems himself an apex predator. In the beginning we can smell whiffs of anger in Adam, a ticking time bomb, but when his fury is unleashed, it sucks all the air out of our lungs.
The early bonding scenes are a treat to watch and when Adam, Matt, and Steve play pranks with their new found powers, they are often times hilarious, typical antics of puckish teenagers. The standout is when the three boys discover they can fly and they pass around a football above the clouds. There is also a wonderful talent show sequence where Steve and Matt reveal their powers to their fellow high school students. The scene belongs to Adam and I got the feeling that Steve was trying to give Adam his moment in the sun, which makes their sudden falling out all the more dramatic and crushing. Yet it is these scenes that also bring out the true humanity of these teenagers, who come off like real everyday teens you’d pass on the street. They discuss girls, popularity, sex, parties, and their dreams, all while never missing the opportunity to give each other a hard time. These teens also quote Carl Jung, which is a bit left of center but brave nonetheless.
Chronicle packs epic battle sequences that will shake the walls of your theater. They also end up being the most flawed aspects of the film, sometimes being a bit incomprehensible and distant. There are shots that are too far away to really tell who is winning in the climatic showdown and I was left wishing that Trank had focused his camera in a little bit closer. I understand the approach he is taking but he has to understand that he is yanking us out of the moment when he pulls away. Yet he makes a mountain out of a measly pile of dirt. Chronicle reeks of having a shoestring budget yet we get explosions, cars crushing like soda cans, helicopters smashing into the panic-stricken streets, and destruction of the famed Seattle Space Needle. We get scenes of the kids leaping through the air, dodging airplanes, making heroic catches of both each other and innocent bystanders. Trank makes the action unfeigned, bloody, and yes, the kids get hurt. Bad. It’s far from the standard superhero films where the blows don’t really faze either individual. Our dueling characters are barely standing halfway through their confrontation.
In the end, Chronicle features well-written dialogue, multidimensional characters, booming action sequences, and an unforgettable climax. The most glaring issue with the film is the lack of an explanation over what the kids find in the cave and all we really get is some shaky neon shots of what looks like a giant neon crystal spider (trust me, it’s actually pretty cool looking) that emits rumbling electronic booms. The film never backtracks to explain further which I found to be frustrating. The true hero of Chronicle ends up being the villain, DeHaan, who is a little too convincing at times in his rage. For a February release, Chronicle manages to be a step above the other warmed over releases by Hollywood. It’s a step above because it captures how kids in this situation would act and react. And you can’t help but reflect on what you would do if you suddenly gained superpowers. Would you play pranks? Use it for destructive purposes? Use them to protect your family at any cost? Or use them to make a teddy bear levitate to scare a young girl? But kids will be kids I suppose and the shenanigans are expected. There is no question or doubt that Chronicle is one of the coolest movies of 2012 so far.