If you were to look back on the past decade in film, two things you would probably not say the world was in desperate need of would be: 1) Another superhero movie. 2) Pretty much anything with a narrative based upon found footage. Apparently, director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (fruit of the legendary John Landis’ very own loins) not only disagree, they aimed to prove us wrong on both counts simultaneously.
Chronicle tells a tale that’s initially familiar territory even for people who don’t know their Doc Samson from their Doc Ock: Three young teenage boys stumble upon a big, glowy MacGuffin deep in the woods and then wake the next day to find they’ve miraculously become a bunch of recently post-pubescent Professor Xs. Luckily for us, the film’s main character has a rather unhealthy obsession with video documenting every minute of his waking life (seemingly in an attempt to stave off his drunken father’s abuses, as well as people in general), and thus we are taken with them on this journey into the wild and whacky world of telekinesis. Though at first this mostly involves sitting idly by while they tear-ass over Seattle, or semi-harmlessly torture the unsuspecting denizens of their local Walmart, it isn’t very long before there’s a desperate need for good ol’ Uncle Ben to pop up and remind everyone in the room that “with great power comes great responsibility”.
As a dyed-in-the-wool comic geek, getting my butt in the seat for this sort of thing isn’t exactly an uphill battle, crowded marketplace or otherwise, but it wasn’t long after the Blair Witch made her splash onto the scene that I began to grow weary of first-person filmmaking. The trick here is Trank and Landis are as aware of the format’s limitations as anyone, and instead of succumbing to them, they managed to defy our well engrained expectations by leveraging the limitless possibilities of the superhero genre itself. After all, who needs some ridiculously fancy rig for their camera when they can make the damn thing float around the room with their mind? Need a dozen different angles for a particular scene? Just have one of your superkids borrow the smartphone of everyone in a three block radius. It’s not quite perfectly executed (characters certainly have a nasty habit of reminding us that they know they’re constantly on camera), but they’ve managed to give the audience reason to believe in a movie that feels as personal as your typical found footage flick, even though it has all the cinematic flair of a traditional one. That’s exactly the kick in the ass this well-worn niche needed, as well as a feat even the best entries into the subgenre cannot lay claim to.
Perhaps more importantly, I actually felt invested in these three friends and their struggle to cope with their new-found abilities, which is in itself a major hurdle considering my complete and utter disinterest in all things Bieber generation. Unlike Cloverfield, where my brain threw its own private party every time a member of the cast bit the dust, Chronicle gives us some God’s honest character development well before we get into any massive action set-pieces (it’s probably worth mentioning that when these sequences do come, they look far better than they have a right to, considering the film’s modest budget). Much in the vein of M. Night’s Unbreakable, it’s a fairly grounded, completely spandex free look at what exactly makes a hero. And without giving too much away, I think it’s safe to say it might not be the origin story you’re expecting.