Review: Chronicle (2012)

Directed by: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan

Despite all of my gripes regarding the recent slew of misfires within the ailing found-footage subgenre, it’s apparent now more than ever that this format is here to stay. This time around however, the powers-that-be realized that your project’s subject matter need not be limited to uninspired B-grade exorcism/ghost-riddled drivel that exists solely to recoup the meager amount of money spent on the production and then some (i.e. The Devil Inside). Josh Trank’s Chronicle, needless to say, is a breath of fresh air in the sense that it aptly incorporates a tried-and-true aesthetic into a surprisingly fleshed out sci-fi thriller’s clothing, ensuring that the bulk of the proceedings remain unique enough to overcome the film’s more obvious slip-ups.

Thanks to the film’s slightly ambiguous ad campaign, we as viable parts of the movie-going public were led to believe that Chronicle was, in fact, a film in the same vein as Cloverfield that, well, chronicles the events leading up to a trio of high school students acquiring what are presumably superpowers and their subsequent struggle in using them properly. From the get-go, it becomes apparent that the film’s centerpiece is in fact young Andrew, of whom is a particularly troubled adolescent male living under the scrutiny of an abusive alcoholic father and terminally ill mother. Angst aside, stereotypically introverted Andrew and his cousin Matt soon pair with the latter’s friend Steve as they collectively happen upon a mysterious relic that bestows them all with telekinetic powers.

Confiding only in each other as they learn to harness their respective gifts, it’s fun to witness each CG-infused spectacle as they gradually increase in frequency and intensity, with the titular Andrew regularly succumbing to predictable temper tantrums that effectively lay the groundwork for the film’s gripping latter act. The scenes surrounding the trio coming to terms with their newfound abilities are eerily plausible, subtly adding to the film’s overall appeal as it attempts to splice together a run-of-the-mill high school-centric teen drama with something more substantial. While Chronicle‘s undeniably big-budget feel and sheer sense of originality help to overcome the slow burn films of its type often implement to make their big payoffs that much more effective, it still falters under the weight of its own ambition given an amateurish feel and blatant avoidance of an explanation behind just what the hell happened to these individuals.

Although the talent at the heart of Chronicle exudes palpable and mostly believable chemistry, the familiarity of the plot’s trajectory thanks to its heavy-handed addressing of megalomania coinciding with the teens’ misuse of their abilities is hard to ignore. As a unified whole however, Chronicle is a mostly well-rounded and unique debut effort from director Trank and screenwriter Max Landis. While the film’s third act far exceeds anything it serves up initially, its attempts at emotional sincerity fall flat thanks to a batch of archetypal characters and overwhelming frenetic tendencies. Needless to say, it excels within the realm of the previously ailing subgenre it snugly fits into, and in all likelihood, it’ll certainly serve as a precursor to imitators looking to break free from the stale horror mold productions of its type have recently (and distastefully) succumbed to.

Rating: 6/10

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