6 February 2012

Review: Chronicle

(Dir: Josh Trank, 2012)

The “found footage” style of filmmaking appears to be becoming more prevalent these days although I get the impression that a lot of people are finding it increasingly tiresome - it can certainly be hit and miss whether it works or not. The shaky nature of the camerawork can be off-putting for many, and some things just look better when presented with a more cinematic hue. However this style can really suit a certain type of story. Two of the best recent examples, [rec] and Cloverfield, put the viewer right into a crazy situation and let the events unfold with a heightened sense of reality far more effective than more traditional filmmaking, traversing the subconscious barrier between knowing you’re watching something fictional and what looks like reality. For the right story it can add a lot. I wish I could’ve seen The Blair Witch Project on it’s US opening weekend, where the marketing campaign was so effective that audiences genuinely believed it was real. In the intervening months up to the UK release it's true nature was revealed, but to have seen it with even a little bit of doubt as to whether it was real or not would’ve made it even more impactful and frightening. Unfortunately this style of filmmaking can probably never get back to that position again.

So by now it must be pretty obvious that Chronicle is filmed as if it’s a “found footage” movie. The question of whether this was the right decision is no doubt a divisive one, but I fall on the side of yes it was. The technique has really become predominantly associated with the horror genre so I found it quite refreshing to see it used in something slightly different. Chronicle follows three high school students, Andrew, Matt and Steve (played by Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan), who stumble across a hole in the woods containing something unexplained (and thankfully it does remain unexplained ) – something that passes on a new ability to each of them, making them unique and powerful.

Andrew is essentially the lead character and the film begins with him explaining why he is going to film his life. It’s interesting how this style of film needs to explain why the film is being filmed in the first place – a justifiable reason avoids it feeling contrived and stops you wondering why in some scenes the person behind the camera isn’t helping the people being filmed (as I said, it’s predominantly a technique used in horror). Back to Andrew – he’s a social outcast at school, his only friend appears to be his cousin Matt, his father is violent towards him and his mother is seriously ill. He has issues. Although at first this reasoning for filming seems a little lightweight, as soon as the powers are received the decision to document what they can do seems justified. On top of that a very clever conceit is introduced later on with regard to who is doing the filming.

As you’d expect with a story of this nature there’s a lot of fun to be had when high school kids realise they have "super powers". There are some very good, funny scenes where they surreptitiously test out in public what they can do, and a fantastic scene where they realise what they can really do with their powers. However things inevitably take a turn for the worse and get darker, and it’s at this point I think the film loses it’s sense of wonder and takes on a more generic feel, going down a predictable route. It’s a little disappointing because I’m certain there are more interesting directions it could’ve gone that would’ve lived up to the rest of the film, although that’s not to say the last third isn’t entertaining still.

One thing that was unexpected was the film providing a little food for thought when I left the cinema. Everyone has of course wondered what they would do with “super powers”, but Chronicle presents a more tangible reality of what it would actually be like if this happened (unlike whatever the latest big screen comic book origins film portrays), showing the wonder as well as the potential negative physical side effects (a nice little touch that runs through the film). But alongside that it made me question how the public would actually react if they saw someone flying for example? How would it change our perception of the world and mankind’s limitations. Would it actually make us strive to make ourselves better? I wonder if I was the only who left the cinema thinking these things?

I liked Chronicle. It’s a neat, pretty smart little movie, and I think writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank deserve credit for that. It also happens to be a lot of fun, and the cast (particularly Matt and Steve) are likeable. My only real complaint is the direction it decided to go in the last third but it’s not enough to ruin the film. If movies are supposed to be about creating a sense of wonder, Chronicle delivers in spades.

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