ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT FILMORIA
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) has had enough of his alcoholic father’s controlling ways and decides to film everything with his new video camera. While at a party, Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the popular kid Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a mysterious crystal that gives them superpowers, but not moral strength to deal with them.
Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker; ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’ but Andrew, Matt and Steve have obviously never seen Spider-Man, or if they have, the message was lost on them. These are three kids whose shared experience make them friends, but when they realise that they have super human powers that are only getting stronger, They use their new skills for personal gain and never become the masked vigilante we have come to expect from a superhero franchise. Those of us who have ever seen a superhero movie will know that this is not going to end well.
Andrew is trying his best to hide behind his camera and ignore the fact that his mother is dying and his father is an abusive alcoholic. This advent of superpowers gives him the distraction that he needs, but underneath it all, this is a very angry kid who has been given considerable power. Dane DeHaan manages to capture the anger of the character yet still make him relatable. This is the outsider whose suffering has made him angry, but he feels the need to chronicle his life all the same; either as evidence of the pain he has suffered, a way to put a barrier between himself and reality or out of pure hope that there is still something beautiful in his world.
Matt is the brainy hunk that has little room for emotional connections, and Steve is the popular guy who is slightly dumb, but essentially good. These characters are thrust into a situation that will lead to their strongest and weakest qualities being accentuated, and the actors take this opportunity and run with it. Not all of them are given the same time to make an impact as DeHaan, but they show how their lives change through their interactions with one another.
Max Landis and Josh Trank have created a wonderful film; the script is believable, the characters relatable, and the idea that the film is made of footage that the kids themselves have filmed leads to the breaking down of the fourth wall. This in turn leads to the characters being able to treat the camera as a journal for their feelings, be it through dialogue or facial expression. This also allows the air of the film to become oppressive as we are constantly viewing the world as the characters want us to see it. There are a couple of cheats with the notion of ‘found footage’, but these had to happen to allow the gap between Andrew and his friends to widen.
That said, the film is not all about angst; there are some hilarious moments where the kids play with their powers in a supermarket – and scare the life out of a small girl using a teddy bear – and these serve to show time passing, their powers growing, and remind the audience that these are people in our own world; these are people we know. If there were to be a complaint, it would be that the pacing is sometimes a little off, which means that the film feels a lot longer than it’s 83 minute running time.
In all, Chronicle is a superhero movie, but it is also a study of the human condition. It would have been easy to tell the story of a good kid gone bad after the death of his mother, but we have seen that story before. What we have not seen is a real world kid who has the power to inflict the physical damage on the world that his grief is causing him. This is the Peter Parker story arc mixed with that of the Hulk; the quiet unassuming guy who has great power thrust upon him, but has so much rage that he cannot control his newfound strength. The story is incredibly well told, the special effects brilliantly realised and the small story becomes big through the simple inclusion of one, seemingly simple, story element. Chronicle is a touch of brilliance; the subtext tells us more than the dialogue, but the film never becomes too lofty to be enjoyable.