Chronicle * * *

Genre: Science Fiction

Director: Josh Trank

Writers: Max Landis & Josh Trank

Cast: Ashley Hinshaw, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Dane Dehaan, Michael Kelly

Running Length: 84 minutes

Synopsis: Three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.

Review: It’s not easy to be a fan of found footage movies – with the sickness-inducing camera shake and always flimsy excuses for the protagonists having a camera with them at all times, there are plenty of audience members who will not miss found footage movies if they all disappear overnight. However, Chronicle is a breath of relatively fresh air in this limited sub-genre, applying the found footage concept to the superhero movie, and the result is a very compelling piece of slightly flawed filmmaking.

Chronicle is basically an 84-minute answer to the question “what if you had superpowers?”, and it starts off lighthearted enough, with the three teenagers playing harmless pranks and messing with each other. The teens’ powers ramp up exponentially, the film quickly takes on a far darker edge, with Trank and Landis crafting a story with a number of surprising twists and turns despite what seems to be at first a very predictable film.   

One of the reasons why Chronicle works so well is in its casting – all three teenagers are charismatic in their own way, and the audience will definitely feel a connection to the trio. It may or may not be a compliment to their thespian skills to say that their portrayals of teenagers seem to come very close to real life. Of the three, Dane Dehaan is the most impressive, a Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike that plays Andrew, the most troubled teen of the trio. Trank also smartly chose to “document” some of the domestic issues that plague Andrew, which allows an insight into his backstory and fleshes out the character more than most similar films are able to.   

That’s not to say Chronicle is a perfect film – it requires a near-total suspension of disbelief, and eventually the film writes itself into a corner that it doesn’t really successfully extricate itself out of. Most glaringly, a short scene after the climactic showdown totally messes up the found footage conceit, and feels so out of place with the rest of the film Josh Trank should have simply edited it out of the movie entirely.

It’s not the only time that the film “cheats” a little, however, another example being replacing shakycam footage with steadier scenes by telling the audience that Andrew “holds” the camera with a telekinetic virtual tripod (to be honest, I am actually thankful for this). There are other sequences which do not fit into the film’s internal logic, but the movie is absorbing enough for audience members to overlook such lapses.

Made on the cheap with a budget of “only” US$15 million, the CG effects are a little hit and miss. Generally though, the effects are impressive enough, and despite the slightly chaotic end sequence, is a pretty thrilling film that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, but given the right mindset (and a good resistance to motion sickness), Chronicle ranks as one of the first great surprises of 2012.  

Rating: *** (out of four stars)

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