Director: Josh Trank
Writers: Max Landis, Josh Trank
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Josh Trank makes his feature length film directorial debut with Chronicle, a stunning found footage superhero movie which quite simply has to be seen to be believed. Chronicle is a terrific piece of work, and I still cannot believe that this is Trank’s first proper film. We are in the presence of greatness here, like when The Blair Witch Project came out the woods, or when Paranormal Activity chilled our bones, or when Cloverfield reared its ugly head. Josh Trank’s Chronicle can sit alongside those genre defining found footage classics and hold its head up high, and be proud. See, the found footage genre, love it or hate it, is constantly abused and attacked by movie fans because they feel it either doesn’t work, or it is running out of ideas. I love the genre, and when films like this come along to breathe new life into it, well, I just can’t help myself can I. Chronicle is a superb film, a classic found footage film which turns the found footage idea on its head. How? Well, let me explain.
See, Chronicle doesn’t live by the usual rule of actual found footage where you know everyone is going to die and that you are watching what they actually filmed before meeting their demise. No, cleverly Trank plays off the whole genre, flips it on its head and presents us with more of a documentary, and a brilliant lack of knowledge as to how the story pans out. We do not know if we are watching footage of someone who has died, or not. We simply watch, and love every minute as lead character Andrew Detmar (DeHaan) films his life, and we watch. Yes, we know this is found footage, but Trank delivers so many ideas and surprises that you really do not know where the film will lead to next.
We meet Andrew, a quiet, very shy lad who is bullied at school and also bullied at home by his drunk Father. Powerful storytelling explains how Andrew’s Dad got injured as a fire fighter, and now lives off benefits. Andrew uses his camera as a means to escape the pain of everyday life, and the scenes filmed at home are often strong, and incredibly upsetting. His Dad is angry, angry at the world, at Andrew, and he just cannot deal with the fact his wife is dying. Andrew deals with the pain in his own way, but this is not a happy family environment, and for Andrew to come out of this and then get pushed, punched and laughed at at school, it is no wonder he is a loner. His cousin Matt (Russell) tries to get Andrew to socialise, but the poor lad is not interested. The pair go to a party, where Matt’s friend Steve (Jordan) has found a sort of crater in the woods and, seeing Andrew’s camera, invites him to follow them and film what happens. Deep in the woods the three lads find the hole and Steve becomes very excited, he jumps down, followed by Matt and eventually Andrew. An almost Goonies-like sense of adventure takes over as the friends walk through tunnels until they eventually find a strange being. Thankfully, and to the directors credit, none of this is ever really explained, which takes away the explanation and allows your own imagination to run wild as to what the Hell they found down there. Whatever it was, it gave them superpowers, and the power of telekinesis.
After the emotional start, Chronicle suddenly shifts a gear as Andrew finds friends, and the three of them start to experiment with their new found powers. After playing throwing a ball, they move on to other, bigger things like the hilarious scene in a toy shop making teddy’s float and steeling people’s chewing gum, moving people’s cars and even creating a wind to blow up cheer leaders skirts. The three friends experiment with their new powers as if they were you or me. The director pulls off a superb work of honesty as these new superhero’s have no idea what to do with their new found powers. In a great act of kindness, Steve allows Andrew to become centre of attention at school, and the three become inseparable. These early moments play out as if you had just found these powers with your mates, the honesty is terrific, and thankfully Trank keeps things as real as humanly possible as Andrew, Matt and Steve explore their powers. A scene where Steve learns to fly, and then teaches the rest is full of adrenalin and excitement and you really do believe that these guys are actually flying! Andrew places the camera perfectly, and all we can do is watch in awe as these friends take off and take flight. The effects as they all give it a go are truly astonishing.
We have followed Andrew through his traumatic homelife and horrific school life, and all the fun and wonder of these new powers are about to become very dark indeed. We all know from the trailer that Chronicle turns dark, but just how dark it goes is frightening and superbly realised. The proof of how just how well Trank creates his film is that no matter how dark the film goes, you still sympathise with Andrew, and I found myself cheering him on in places. Chronicle builds to an almighty climax, unlike anything you have ever seen before. Andrew’s personal camera leads way to police camera’s, CCTV, phone and helicopter footage. Images appear on screen which suddenly make you feel sick, and you find yourself questioning who to side with. The director cleverly builds the climax, and delivers everything you were hoping for, and then some!
Chronicle is not only a top of the range found footage flick, it is also a powerful drama which deals with troubled homelives and teens inability to know what to do with a unique gift. The director should be applauded though, as he really does offer us an insight into just how teens would behave with this sort of power. Chronicle is not only a superb found footage flick about teens with superpowers, it is also a study on just what troubled teens would do with power if they were given it, Trank plays a disturbing and unsettling picture that people should take note of. I am not saying teens are going to end up with powers like this, but just be careful of their intentions. As Spiderman’s saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility” The guys here couldn’t give a shit about that until they develop some rules.
Anyway, Chronicle is masterful filmmaking, and thankfully breathes new life into the glorious found footage, handheld, home video, “filmed on my phone” genre. Josh Trank has proved himself a real director to watch, and the fact he created something as mind boggling as this on a micro budget defies belief. The special effects are dazzling! This is a film which I cannot wait to view on Bluray at home, so I can pick apart the scenes and try and figure out just how the Hell Trank pulled them off. Here is a director with raw talent, a director not afraid to do what he knows best, and a director not afraid to deliver his own unique vision. Chronicle, for want of a better word, is special.