Saturday 4 February 2012


Aiming to do for the superhero genre what Paranormal Activity did for horror, the found footage teen drama Chronicle is now in cinemas. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

When three classmates stumble upon a mysterious cavern, what they find inside leaves them will new abilities, including moving things with their minds and being able to fly. Filming their progress as they train themselves, Andrew, Matt and Steve (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan) form a close bond that can only be ruined by one thing; the hunger for more power and their inability to control it.

In the immortal words of Jimbo Jones from The Simpsons, "filming this crime spree was a great idea". That's the basic premise of Chronicle but with superpowers added to make their japes all the more fantastic. From a script by Max (son of John) Landis, Chronicle aims to reinvigorate the well worn formula of the superhero movie but despite its initial promise, it ends up being no more revolutionary a superhero film than Hancock. Perhaps sharing more in common with an episode of Jackass than Paranormal Activity, Chronicle still qualifies as being part of the current 'found footage' sub-genre.

One basic rule of found footage is that someone has to be looking after the camera, either actually holding it or putting it somewhere to film themselves. They may have different reasons for wanting to film, be it documenting the things that go bump in the night or a giant monster attacking New York, but they're our guide and we're supposed to be sharing what they've seen. Chronicle plays around with this POV rule with detrimental consequences. It's passable that as troubled loner Andrew learns to control his telekinesis he is able to let the camera float around him, but less so that he'd be so bothered about camera angles and making sure everyone fits into frame.

There's basic documentary and even mockumentary rules that this film simply just doesn't follow. Bear with me now, but a curious comparison would be the difference between TV's The Office and Parks and Recreation. Similar beasts from a distance, whereas The Office still maintains the ruse that the subjects are being filmed by a camera crew as part of some humungous documentary project, Parks and Recreation does away with the actual documentarians but is still filmed in the same talking heads and captured footage format; shaky-cam, if you will. This is what happens in Chronicle's later stages, taking the film out of the realm of documentary and leaving it dangling somewhere in between.

As soon as you question where this footage has come from the whole effect is ruined. The multi camera angled finale (filmed via a variety of cameras and phones without a drop in the quality of image) pushes the concept completely beyond breaking point. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief that the families of Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat would sell the footage of their haunting to Paramount Pictures, but I can't accept that this film was edited together from multiple untraceable sources into what we see. This step away from the boundaries of found footage is too distracting to ignore. The film also suffers from some ropey looking CGI. During the talent contest where Andrew and Steve showcase their high-wire juggling skills, it looks bad bordering on the terrible. You'd see better special effects on an episode of Heroes.

There's sequences that stand out, a high flying game of catch for example, or the early scenes that show the boys goofing around and having fun with their powers (the notion of fighting crime or saving damsels in distress never really occurs to them). It's a believable scenario that they'd want to play around and use their powers for personal gain (increasing social status to pull chicks), and that feeling of invincibility and the laughs they share are infectious, but as the story moves away from that and over to Andrew's family problems and deteriorating mental state the fun just disappears.

The final showdown, featuring character developments signposted right from the start, is underwhelming at best. The film tries to widen its scale too much, taking in aspects of Akira and Seattle's grand cityscape as a location, suffering as a consequence. A fun ride in its opening scenes, Chronicle fails to build upon its early promise by offering anything that lives up to its original concept, lacking the power to match up to its ambition.

Supes and Batman can breathe a sigh of relief, their jobs are safe for now.


1 comment:

  1. im going to see it on tuesday... i will let you know what i think