Chronicle seems to be a film that we’re supposed to like simply because it’s an ambitious, low-budget film about what might happen if three teenagers wound up acquiring superpowers. Do you know what the answer to that puzzle is? Not a whole lot until one of them decides to turn evil. I suppose that final action scene is almost worthwhile, but seeing three teenagers pull pranks on unsuspecting victims while they “work out” their powers is simply kind of a dull premise.
The three leads: Andrew (Dan DeHaan), the loner; Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the athlete; and Matt (Alex Russell), the all-around popular kid, who is also Andrew’s cousin. At a party one night, they venture into the woods, find a cave, enter, see a glowing thing, and wake up the next morning with telekinetic powers. They’re weak at first, but with some training, they get stronger and stronger. One likens the powers to a muscle, which needs to be built up gradually. So, that’s what’s done for the better part of the film. They goof off, pull pranks, and do absolutely nothing that grows them as a character or provides even mild amusement for me.
I get that there’s an inherent thrill to pulling pranks in real life. Can you pull it off? Will you get caught? What’s the reaction of the other person going to be? Fine. That can be fun. Watching superpowered movie-people pulling pranks gives none of that. If they get caught, they can just fly away. They have powers which can allow them to move heavy objects like cars, so you know they’ll basically be able to do anything they set their mind to. Only the reaction of the other person is left, and those points feel far more scripted than the rest of the movie.
It’s actually really comical and over-the-top whenever the kids pull their pranks on someone. The reactions are hysterical, unlike anything that would happen in real life. Considering the rest of the movie tries to be more “realistic” in its approach, these felt out of place. That’s not even considering that it’s just boring to watch invincible people pull pranks that would barely be exciting in real life.
This is all shown to us in low-quality, handheld camera-style, because this is a found footage movie — for no other reason than to keep the budget low, by the way. Andrew just starts the movie going “I’m going to record everything from now on, okay?” When another character asks him his reasoning, he essentially just says “Why not?”
Eventually, the camera does get a more traditional cinematography style, as Andrew uses his powers to hold the camera away from his body. That helps, but it happens far too infrequently for it to really matter. And the whole “found footage” conceit basically gets thrown out the window as soon as we learn that any camera that happens to be recording at the time is allowed to be used. Yes, someone had to go in and edit our film together — we couldn’t just “find” it — because security cameras, cell phones, and the camera from a blogger named Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) all get used. They’re, somehow, even of worse quality than Andrew’s camera, so it’s a very good thing that they’re used infrequently.
I’ll admit that the final battle scene, at least in theory, is a lot of fun. One of the characters finally turns evil — something that had been hinted at for the longest time — and the others have to try to either stop him or escape. They essentially have a Dragonball Z fight in downtown Seattle. I mentioned that it’s enjoyable in theory because the cameras used to film it are so poor — cell phones are used way more frequently here — and the cuts are so fast in order to keep up with our Super Saiyans that it’s sometimes tough to keep track of who’s hitting whom.
So, yes, the only potential highlight of Chronicle is ruined because of the choice to make it a found footage movie. Sure, the film probably wouldn’t have been made otherwise, but when you have a character determined to film everything, surely the one good quality camera in the whole film should be there to capture the pivotal scene, right? That would mean better special effects and a higher budget, though.
None of these actors, based on their performances here, will go on to win awards. They’ve got a single note, and play it throughout. It’s no surprise who turns evil near the end because the actor has been essentially playing that same character — just without any forced drive or determination — for Chronicle‘s entirety. The other two are stereotypes. The only performance I actually enjoyed was Andrew’s alcoholic and abusive father, Richard (Michael Kelly), but he only shows up every now and then.
Chronicle is a low-budget superhero movie that would have almost been worth it had it found a way to avoid the trappings of a found footage movie. Or, at least, kept to its found footage idea and used the “good” camera for its entirety. As it is, it’s 2/3 kids goofing around and 1/3 a big battle scene, and while the latter had the potential to be very exciting, it fails when you can only rarely tell what’s going on. It’s an interesting idea, but Chronicle isn’t a very good film.