Chronicle combines two things that when separate are more than enough to do in a typical film: teens with superpowers, and teen cameramen.
Soon-to-be class president Steve (Michael B. Jordan), metaphysicist Matt (Alex Russell) and loaner Andrew (Dane DeHaan) encounter a hole in the woods. Provoked by their curiosity, they climb inside to find a source of great power. Next thing they know they have telekinetic powers, which they can put to use performing pranks, that is until someone gets hurt.
The visuals of Chronicle would have been Oscar worthy roughly ten years ago. Today, we see this stuff every commercial break. If you recall in The Matrix (1999) the famously bent spoon wasn’t a spoon. It didn’t take a philosopher like Keanu to point this out—that spoon was a computer rendering. Most objects manipulated by the students in Chronicle are entirely CGI. Be it a baseball suspended in air, a spider floating with its legs splayed out, or stuffed toys hurled at a cart, you’re looking at post-production programming.
Chronicle sticks to a falsified found footage aesthetic. Every shot comes from the point of view of a diegetic camera. As someone who spends more time—than I very obviously should—creating video, the inaccuracy of the presentation is frustrating. Chronicle is far too pretty to have been shot on the consumer cameras the characters of the film use. Even more radical is the improvement over the built-in microphones these cameras have, and background chatter is selective.
When a filmmaker sets out to tell a story with such a restricted device, a host of dilemmas present themselves. Traditionally the issue of camera placement doesn’t fall on the characters. In the case of Chronicle the powers actually aid in telling the story. Being able to levitate the camera helps get more coherent shots than Cloverfield. It is odd how one day Andrew simply decided to record his boring life, expressing zero ambition or purpose. Overall first time director Josh Trank surprised me with how effectively the story is told. There’s even the bonus of a subtext in which their powers are metaphors for substance abuse. The high is all too obvious.
I liked some of these characters, particularly Steve, so it’s too bad the thinking portion of their brains weren’t enhanced. How else are we to account for someone with extraordinary skills putting them to use by robbing a convenience store and taping the process no less? Do banks not exist in Seattle? What about TV exposure?
Chronicle blends a couple of novel thoughts, pairing the documentation with the teenage superpowers compliments each other when alone they would each likely fail. Chronicle is short of groundbreaking, but plenty entertaining and deceptively smarter than advertised. ***