(Josh Trank, 2011, USA)
Lacking the elusive sheen of a J.J. Abrams’ produced, mystery feature viral campaign (namely Cloverfield (2008)), the initial marketing gambit for Josh Trank’s directorial debut Chronicle resembled another tedious excursion in found footage antics, appealing once again to a teenage market easily swayed by its faux authenticity. What it failed to stress however was its dwellings within the superhero genre, an angle that the film fully exploits but with a refreshing twist that, for the most part, manages to dodge established and repeated cliché.
After a chance encounter with a buried, extra-terrestrial-like object, three high school friends gain superhuman strengths that allow them the fortitudinous abilities of telekinesis and the power of flight, yet as their friendship (as well as confidence) rapidly blossoms, their individual grasps of the unidentified afflictions begin to take their toll, to tragic consequences.
Anchoring the film is the central relationship between the three, ably rendered by a relatively unknown cast of US TV actors who flesh out their acutely stereotypical characters: Michael B. Jordan as the popular Steve vying for class presidency, the oddly philosophically minded Matt (Alex Russell) and Andrew (Dane DeHaan), whose gaunt, lined face conceals a secret life of domestic hardship. His mother is slowly dying, and an out-of-work, alcoholic father uses his fists to conceal the pain. Although inherently generic, the first half of Trank’s film soars along at a zippy pace, combining inventive set pieces with sufficient character development (and occasionally clumsy CGI) as the protagonists get to grips with their newly acquired talents, bolstered by the found footage technique which forsakes plodding exposition in favour of narrative thrust. Yet the mood of the film changes almost too swiftly, moving at a speed that begins to favour spectacular sequences over a depth of character that has already been built up.
Matching this move from small to large-scale sequences, the believability of the omniscient camera and its role within the film begins to falter, with elements shoehorned in to mask a significant lack of ideas. For instance, an internet blogger with a romantic attachment to one of the protagonist’s insists on filming everything she witnesses, and Andrew is constantly seen honing his talents at levitating the camera around his every move, as if assembling footage for a tell-all documentary. In fact, with the amalgamation of this amateur footage with various surveillance camera recordings, seen particularly during the inevitably bombastic climax, the whole film has the feel of an assembled collage melded together to depict the story, yet the identity of those who pieced it together is left unaccountable.
Although it unfortunately tends to punch above its narrative weight in the dizzyingly obtuse second section, Chronicle offers a serviceable antidote to the budgetary dexterities of Hollywood at its worst, reworking a tried and tested formula and exposing it to a revitalising concept that, at 84 minutes, seldom outstays its welcome.