Monday, 6 February 2012

Review: Chronicle

Rating: 12a
Duration: 83 mins

So the found footage genre has been done to death, but please cease with the heckling already. Granted, the eye-rolling prospect of going to see such a movie will no doubt evoke memories of Apollo 18 and Paranormal Activity 3, but for all the mediocrity plaguing our screens, there are some fine gems that genuinely work well: with The Blair Witch Project, Troll Hunter and [REC] as fine examples.

Relative newcomers Josh Tank (director) and Max Landis (writer), present an overused format whilst incorporating an interesting sci-fi drama. Refreshingly, the three leads are unknowns: the cast consists of social misfit Andrew (Dane DeHaan); his on-the-fence semi-jerk cousin Matt (Alex Russell); and the local high school's Mr. Popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan), to complete an unlikely trio of pals. One night at a party the threesome discover a gaping hole in a field and decide to venture inside to see where a tremor-like sound is emanating from, naturally. The boys emerge from the experience with an inexplicable telekinetic abilities after coming into contact with mysterious living crystals, a la the Fortress of Solitude, as they begin to bond with their new found powers and decide what, if anything, should be done with them. Chronicle is different in the sense that it explores the superhero genre in a more humanistic way; asking what a group of teens would really do with powers, rather than take a squeaky clean Clark Kent approach.

The character types are laid out in an obvious fashion: Andrew is the unpopular, social outcast with some obvious brooding anger buried within. Steve, however, is the opposite: good with the ladies, charming and uber popular, with Matt comfortably on the fence between the aforementioned polar opposites.

The entire film is shot from a home-made point of view, and without it actually being 'found footage' per se, the opening sees Andrew ponce around with it to rather annoying 'I'm filming cos I want to' effect. Immediately the concept of a teenager recording his life (simply as a weak plot device) at school and at home for no apparent purpose seems a little blas√©. However, as we quickly learn, it can be attributed to his teen angst, which most viewers will forgive, or at least overlook.

For a mere £7.5m, the frequent special effects and impressive set pieces prove that multi-million dollar budgets don't necessarily make it better (as we glare in Michael Bay's direction for the first time this year), as the script itself is a coherent and well structured story that uses the amateur, no-frills style effectively, which makes the special effects appear more convincing. As the third act builds in pace, Tank opts to cut to various security and TV cameras in an attempt to jazz up the action sequences and certainly benefit: moments of a silent, grainy surveillance camera oscillating as walls explode works surprisingly well. 

Chronicle boasts some excellent visuals, notably once the boys discover they can fly. It's a film that'll leave you satisfied, especially after the heart-racing climax, with well executed CGI set pieces ranging from the torture of a spider to the destruction of a fleet of police cars. In honesty, it's the more subtle occurrences that make it engaging on a human level, as well as a realistic one: the manner in how the teens initially use their powers covertly for their own amusement feels natural, bar one mischievous scene where they scare the bejesus out of a young girl with a teddy bear.

The supporting cast is minimal and somewhat weak, with an aggressive role for Michael Kelly as Andrew's unemployed, drunk father, and a seemingly pointless love interest for Matt in the form of school pal, Casey, who also likes to film people. In essence, it's all about the leads and how they handle their new gifts, as they decide how to accept them in what is a solid genre piece.

VERDICT: Chronicle succeeds where many shaky-cam films fail. Yes, the opening wobbles, but once the story kicks in and the SFX woo the audience, it's hard not to find something in each character to relate to and perhaps even sympathise with. A steady build up and fantastic finale levitates this to the summit as one of 2012's best so far. And we were so close to a pun free review, too.