Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: Chronicle

As I have mentioned in this space before, I have very mixed feelings about found footage films.  When they work, they are great (Paranormal Activity) and when they don’t, they are epically bad (Project X).  These movies aren’t going away any time soon as studios love the bargain basement cost associated with this brand of filmmaking so I am sure we’ll continue to see this trend spill into other genres.  With the turn of the calendar, 2012 has already witnessed the release of two such films - Chronicle and Project X.  I saw the latter in the cinema and was ridiculously disappointed to find that it amounted to nothing more than the destructive indulgence of teen anarchy.  As for the former, I recently had the opportunity to view via digital rental.

The plot of Chronicle follows three high school students who come upon a strange cave – presumably of extraterrestrial descent and come away from the experience with a set of telekinetic abilities.  The interesting aspect of the film is to see how the development of these newfound abilities (which include flying) affects each individual given their respective set of experiences and personal baggage. 

My issue is that it so often feels like they are stretching the limits of reason to have a camera readily available and in place to capture events as they unravel, which in a lot of ways breaks the reality of the movie.  Also, besides being cheap, the found footage aspect of movies ads value as a vehicle for suspense and as a means to leverage the use of time as a storytelling tool.  Neither of these mechanisms is significant to Chronicle and thus it makes the whole convention feel gimmicky.  I would argue that Chronicle would have been better served by traditional filmmaking methods to better capture the experiences of the three protagonists.

The cast is for the most part relatively unknown to the general public, which is common for most found footage films.  Cheap casting is always a huge component to cheap filmmaking.  Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan are only adequate as the three super powered teens but that is all they really need to be.  Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis have set it up so that the star of the movie is really the fusion of a superhero narrative and the found footage genre, and that is where my disconnect with this movie resides. 

If you don’t like found footage films, you will want to steer clear of this film.  More so than any other film of this type, I found myself looking for a more coherent style of storytelling.  I liken it to the experience of watching a pro football or basketball game live – where you find yourself looking for commentary to provide direction and insight as a soundtrack to your viewing.  However, if you have no predetermined bias, then Chronicle is a decent rental.  It is a unique take on a superhero movie that stands in sharp contrast to what we have seen in recent years from Marvel and Warners.

Standout Performance: Michael B. Jordan is the most polished of the super-powered trio.


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