After films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity popularized the “found-footage” genre, an onslaught of copycats virtually wiped its realism and significance away. Director Josh Trank’s Chronicle is one of those copycats. Filled with melodramatic teen angst and stereotyped high school characters, the film’s intense action and special effects can only try its best to save this movie from irrelevance.
With an alcoholic, abusive father and a mother terminally ill in the next room, Andrew’s (Dane DeHaan) life has never been worse. As a form of self-therapy, he begins chronicling his daily life with the help of a new video camera. How ironic when just days later, Andrew, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find an ominous hole in the ground and decide to jump in to take a look. What they find (the audience sees, but never discovers what it could possibly be) transmits to them telekinetic powers, powers that the trio discovers will mature with some practice and eventually be able to cause real damage and harm.
A melodramatic storyline and cast of pigeonholed characters is unnecessary for a film with such intense action and special effects. Each of the characters are stereotypical, from the popular class president to the depressed loner and the drunken, abusive father. The fictional high school of the three teens is filled with bullies, typically dressed cheerleaders, and nerds—it’s straight from the set of a John Hughes movie. The clichéd Andrew uses his powerful mind to take his built-up teen angst out on the world, an archetype in itself. Not once do we see his father in any mood besides irritated, nor do we ever discover what illness has stricken his mother or what they are doing to try to help her. This lack of depth hurts Chronicle’s plot and makes me disappointed that they couldn’t fix the story to better compliment the action. Only Russell’s character, Matt, seems to avoid any typecast. His ambiguity was fueled by his literary genius and social popularity. Matt found that he could quote the likes of Plato and other literary giants and still walk the tightrope of high school popularity.
In Hollywood, the most realistic scripts are not always the best. If the viewer wanted to hear high school students ranting like high school students, they would go to a high school. A profound reality is expected in film, a reality that can only exist in the world of film yet one that can easily be relatable. Chronicle’s script, written by Max Landis (his first motion picture script) is too much like the uneventful, repetitive, and unclear expression of most American high school students. Sure it’s relatable, but Chronicle lacks powerful speech and inspired performances.
Chronicle’s relatively fresh faces (DeHaan stars in HBO’s In Treatment, Russell makes his nationally released motion picture debut, and Jordan is best known for NBC’s Friday Night Lights series) gives the movie slight credibility, as more familiar faces would have detracted from the realism of the found-footage approach. While the performances are unoriginal, only further enhancing the stereotypes, they do not take too much away from the film’s action.
For this new handheld approach to cinematography, Chronicle defied its predecessors. With the ability to telekinetically move his handheld camcorder, Andrew reaches heights—both figurative and literal—that The Blair Witch Project couldn’t. Paranormal Activity 3 introduced the rotating camera approach which struck fear into the hearts of the audience, but by moving the camera with his mind, Andrew is able to 1) get himself in the view of the lens, helping character development, and 2) move the camera closer to and further from himself and other characters, making the cinematography seem more typical of a Hollywood film.
Common for the found-footage genre, Chronicle’s soundtrack consists only of music played in the story—mostly at parties, in the car, or in Andrew’s lonely bedroom. Of these songs, a large majority are indie-techno tunes from artists like M83 and Capsule.
Not everyone can fly as gracefully as Superman, but these soaring teens have taken clumsy to new heights. While the support cables and other various wires are not visible, Chronicle doesn’t strive to hide the fact that kids can’t fly. Until the end, flying plays virtually no vital part in the story, and without it, the special effects would gain a much greater reputation. I remember a story that claimed Steven Spielberg was so unimpressed with the unrealistic shark in Jaws, he asked for it to be submerged and hidden underwater until the end of the film. If you don’t have anything nice to show, don’t show anything at all.
The film concludes with an explosive, climactic end, but it can’t quite make up for the poor showing in the first hour of this short (only 83 minutes!) film. Chronicle shows some fun special effects, and at its core the story is intriguing, but its angst-filled storyline and melodramatic acting holds it back from competing action films. It’s the simple things that make an adequate movie great, and Chronicle didn’t quite sew up its loose ends.