Chronicle is a found footage sci-fi movie directed by Josh Trank and written by Max Landis and Josh Trank. The film follows three teenagers who make an unearthly discovery that gives them superhuman powers.
Chronicle has the distinction of being one of a handful of found footage films with a substantial box office return, totaling over $64 million.
The film centers on three high school students, Andrew (Dane DeHann) and his popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and charismatic friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan).
Andrew is the product of a dysfunctional family. His father (Michael Kelly) is a drunk living off of early retirement following an injury as a firefighter. Meanwhile, his mother (Bo Peterson) is bedridden and dying of cancer. Andrew is the subject of physical and emotional abuse by his father, on whom he frequently takes out his drunken aggressions. Life at school isn’t much easier for Andrew, as he’s often bullied and ridiculed by fellow students.
One night while attending a party, the three friends discover a cave inside which they find a glowing crystalline object. The next day the trio realize that their encounter has given them superhuman powers. As the days pass, their abilities continue to evolve and grow in strength. They develop the ability to move objects with their mind, learn how to fly, and even grow some resistance to physical injury.
As the old adage from Spider-Man goes,”With great power comes great responsibility.” This statement could not hold truer, particularly for Andrew who spent his childhood as the target of jokes and abuse and now has the ability to stand up for himself. Unfortunately, temptation and sheer emotional rage often get the better of Andrew’s judgement. Andrew and his two friends must learn to cope with their newfound powers in a world that doesn’t understand what they’ve become.
Found Footage Filming Reason
The filming reasons used in Chronicle are generally good but lack verisimilitude early in the film. Chronicle opens with main protagonist Andrew stating matter of factly that he purchased a new video camera with the intent of recording everything. These recordings appropriately include time spent with his ill mother, time spent alone, and hanging out with his cousin Matt. Borderline incredulous is Andrew’s decision to film everything while walking the hallways of his school in between periods and during school parties. Andrew is already the subject of ridicule and frequent beatings in school, and he knows full well that toting around a camera will only draw unwanted attention.
The filming reason progressively improves as Chronicle moves forward. After the group discovers their newfound powers, documenting everything on film is completely natural and expected. Whatsmore, Andrew develops the ability to remote operate his handheld video camera using his mind. This unique plot element effectively takes the onus off the characters from having to hold the video camera, making filming (literally) hands-free and transparent. This cinematic approach provides ample justification for filming since there’s no burden on the characters to physically hold the video camera.
Character Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) a self-proclaimed video-blogger also captures video throughout the film. Scenes with Casey provide a welcome second POV. As the story progresses, video surveillance footage is introduced from a variety of stores and other sources, adding more, vantage points to tell the story.
During the climax of Chronicle, helicopter traffic cams, professional news cameras, surveillance cameras, and spectator cell phone cameras are added to the mix. These additional sources of footage provide a unique variation to the narrative.
Found Footage Cinematography
The found footage cinematography used throughout Chronicle is nothing if not unique. The cinematography starts out as a traditional found footage film, with Andrew performing most of the filming while holding his handheld video camera which he carries everywhere.
As the film progresses and Andrew develops his powers, the cinematography takes on a new approach. Andrew uses telekinesis to control his handheld video camera. Using his mind, Andrew levitates the camera, which records and follows him wherever he goes. This unique plot device enables Chronicle to sport a narrative feel. The floating camera effectively achieves the same off-set camera angles used in traditional narrative films. All the while, Chronicle maintains its found footage conceit without breaking any rules of the genre.
Chronicle includes some interesting plot elements resulting in some uniquely shot scenes. In one particular scene school bullies take his camera, kicking it across the floor – offering a visually interesting shot. The helicopter traffic cam footage used in Chronicle comes across as realistic as is the multitude of surveillance footage. To the film’s credit, different surveillance camera graphics are used for the various camera sources.
Acting and Plot
The acting of Dane DeHann is very good as the reclusive Andrew who for the first time in his life has the power to stand up for himself. Dan DeHann’s character transformation is not entirely different from that of Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). In both films, a misunderstood and emotionally immature protagonist is suddenly presented with unlimited power without the restraint or wisdom to properly use it.
Alex Russell performs exceptionally as Matt, Andrew’s highly popular cousin, who tries to balance his personal life with looking after his increasingly unstable cousin. Michael B. Jodan performs admirably as Steve, the charismatic friend of Andrew and Matt.
Michael Kelly performs well as Andrew’s father, but is best known for his role as Doug Stamper in House of Cards. Ashley Hinshaw’s character Casey has a very believable chemistry with Matt. Ashley Hinshaw is not new to found footage as she holds one of the lead roles in The Pyramid (2014).
Chronicle’s plot and environment is somewhat unique for found footage, which typically takes the form of a pure horror horror story taking place in the recesses of a remote sparsely populated location. The film thrives in the light of day in sprawling suburban and urban environments. The story and acting effectively portray the journey and struggles these teenagers endure as they come to grips with their new abilities. Juxtaposed against their superpowers is the peer pressure to fit in with the rest of society.
While the plot is very interesting, Chronicle spends a bit too much time following the three friends as they use their power for childish pranks and games. The film would have benefited from a further exploration of the depths and reach of their powers. Despite this slight imbalance, Chronicle is a highly entertaining film that will appeal to a much wider audience than the typical films in the found footage genre.