Chronicle is proof that superhero movies don’t have to be same-old, same-old. No one in the film wears a cape or tights. There’s no cartoonish villain or token girlfriend to rescue. These are real kids, acting and talking like real kids, reacting very believably to a series of remarkable occurrences.
The film’s strength lies in two areas: its characters and its mode of storytelling.
The characters are all extremely likable and three-dimensional. Andrew is a bullied loner with an extremely troubled home life. Matt, Andrew’s cousin, is an affable teen with an affinity for philosophy. Steve is a charismatic yet genuinely friendly kid who’s running for class president. An encounter with an ominously glowing crystalline structure buried deep underground brings the three teens together and sets them on increasingly dark paths, destined to diverge.
Here I must praise Chronicle for its unique twist on the tired method of shaky cam storytelling. The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity popularized the home camera approach of filmmaking and spawned an entire sub-genre of movies, most of them inferior in their execution of the technique. Chronicle takes this style of filming a step beyond the norm and expands its scope to great effect.
Every shot of Chronicle is seen through the eye of a camera. What differentiates this film from the plethora of other home camera-style films is that it is not limited to the camera held by one main character. We see shots from other characters’ cameras, from surveillance cameras in office buildings and convenience stores, and from the cameras mounted on the dashboards of police cars. This creative decision allows for greater diversity in perspective and provides for a more engaging experience for the audience.
Chronicle undergoes a notable tonal shift after the first third of the film or so. While Andrew’s drunken father and the ominous nature of the underground crystal provide for some serious moments, the film is lighthearted and often hilarious in the beginning. However, as Andrew’s internal conflicts bubble to the surface and start affecting the way in which he wields his powers, the film becomes increasingly dark and disturbing. Andrew’s turn to violence is gradual and, in his mind, justified, which makes his actions all the more chilling.
This film marks director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis’ (son of director John Landis) debut into feature filmmaking. After seeing what they can create with such a limited budget, I greatly anticipate the work they’ll produce in the future.
For a creative new sci-fi thriller, be sure to check out Chronicle. The unblinking eye of the ever-filming camera makes for a spellbinding experience you’ll not soon forget.