TBTS Reviews: Chronicle
Every so often, a film comes along that spins a tired genre around and gives it a little bit of a shine. These movies have sometimes been massive commercial hits (as the way When Harry Met Sally redefined romantic comedies in 1989), beloved and lasting cult classics (as when Pulp Fiction shed a new light on the gangster genre) or small-but-solid indie charmers (the zombie redefine is long since past, in Edgar Wright’s 2004 Shaun of the Dead, yet zombies amble on).
Ripe for a new take, I think we can all agree, is the superhero story. After all, by this point Hollywood has mined countless comics from which to crib films, and while these works have ranged from top-notch to awful — see: Batman Begins and The Green Lantern, respectively — there’s a fairly predictable element to all of it.If director Josh Trank’s debut film Chronicle isn’t a movie which will be remembered as a major gunner in the pantheon of superhero films, it should surely given at least a very visible footnote. Written by Max Landis (as in, son of John), it’s a hero movie customized for the YouTube generation, not only tweaking the hero format but offering some fresher ideas on the “found footage” trend as well.
The storyline’s fairly simple. Three high schoolers — affable, gregarious jock Steve (Michael B. Jordan), indie-hipster Matt (Alex Russell) and outsider Andrew (Dane DeHaan) — stumble upon a sinkhole in the forest one night, climb down into it, and find something massive and glowing there. When they all emerge, they discover they have a shared power of telekenesis which not only allows them to move things mentally, but project themselves through the air as well. They can fly. And they do with these new powers what most goofball high-schoolers would do with them — they use them to mess with people and pull pranks.
Lest you think this is merely a remake of the 1982 Scott Baio film Zapped!, however, it’s notable that Landis and Trank offer up solid characters in the trio and take the movie in a very interesting direction. As the three bond around their shared secret (they vow that their powers shouldn’t be used on people, or in public), they become more aware of the power they yield — and one of them begins to take a turn south. It’s here that the film takes a very cool left turn; what we thought was a modern day superhero origin story becomes, we discover, a supervillain origin story.
Many critics may chide Chronicle for giving in and becoming a slam-bang action film in its third act, but to me it worked mightily, as does the creative way Landis and Trank figure out how to make a smooth and seamless transition from “found-footage shaky-cam” to a camera perspective which follows the teens in a fluid and omnipresent way. This clever transition is representative of Chronicle as a whole; it’s an inventive, innovative and consistently engaging take on the genre, adhering to some clichés and putting fresh coats of paint on others, while staying very true to a tangible, feasible teenager’s world. Trank and Landis make a good team, and it will be interesting to see what these two continue to do with their careers. Though Chronicle may not have received the studio bumps and PR other films might, the duo deliver in big ways on small resources — and it’s a shame that, because a million trailers aren’t in our faces for Chronicle, that some might miss this film. It’s easily going to be a word-of-mouther, and that can sometimes turn out to be a good thing. So far, it’s working — it won the its opening weekend at the box office. I’ll happily do my part here as well: give the smart, fun Chronicle a shot; you’ll be glad you did.