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Review: Chronicle (2012)

Chronicle (2012)

Directed by: Josh Trank

Premise: Three teenage boys discover a glowing rock that gives them superpowers. As their power increases, the young men face choices about how to use their new abilities.

What Works: For over a decade, superhero films have been a regular part of Hollywood’s annual slate of movies but their output has ranged from the heights of Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man to the lows of The Spirit and The Punisher. The superhero has been such a fixture of contemporary cinema that it was inevitable that the pictures would become self-reflexive and films like Superman Returns, Batman Begins, and Super have attempted to explore what these stories and characters mean for the people who watch them and for the culture at large. Chronicle is another self-reflexive superhero movie and it is far more successful than a lot of the big budget attempts like Hancock or Watchmen. This picture manages to tell a similar story but in a much leaner scope and with much more authentic and accessible characters and that gives this film an immediacy and reality that makes it unique among superhero films. But the primary reason why Chronicle is successful is that it recognizes the ways in which the fantastic elements of the story are symbols and metaphors. Chronicle is really about teenage boys transitioning out of adolescence and into manhood and learning to take responsibility for themselves while cultivating an understanding and ideology about how they fit into society. The film is primarily told through the point of view of a troubled teen played wonderfully by Dane DeHaan. The character is made to be sympathetic as he copes with a terminally ill mother and an abusive father but the character’s adoption of Darwinian ideas leads him to gradually darker territory that set him and the story toward an inevitable conflict with his similarly gifted comrades.

What Doesn’t: The one major flaw of Chronicle is that the story is told in a found footage style. The pseudo-documentary format has an inherent challenge because it limits the possible storytelling perspectives and requires that the film constantly justify why the camera is on. On the first count, the filmmakers of Chronicle find creative ways of getting around the fixed perspective by intercutting security camera recordings and footage shot by other people. But that leaves unresolved questions about what it is we are watching. By comparison, Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project operate under the illusion that all the footage was captured on a single device and the film is the unedited raw footage. But by including these other sources, the filmmakers suggest that Chronicle has been assembled by someone else but the picture lacks the sheen of a finished product. On the second count, Chronicle has trouble justifying the existence of its own footage. There are a lot of scenes in which it is hard to believe that the characters still carry around the camera and the filmmakers even seem to struggle with that, using edits and other visual techniques that are much more akin to a feature film. Ultimately, Chronicle would have been a better and more coherent movie if it had been primarily told in an omniscient feature style and intercut first person camera footage into it.

Bottom Line: Despite the flaws of its filmmaking style, Chronicle is a very good and very interesting superhero film. On a modest scale, this picture accomplishes what many Hollywood tent pole pictures have tried and failed to do on hundred million dollar budgets.

Episode: #376 (February 19, 2012)