Recently, I’ve been trying to go into movies without knowing much about them. Sure, I check Rotten Tomatoes scores and see some trailers while at the theatre, but I try to avoid plot information and trailers when I can. Such was the case with Chronicle. It was a film that wasn’t even on my radar until it started getting strong reviews, and aside from its most basic premise, I didn’t know anything about it going in. I’m not sure whether or not that helped my enjoyment of the film, but either way, I did enjoy the film a lot.
In a way, there’s not much to know about Chronicle, aside from the basics. Our protagonist is Andrew (played by Dane DeHaan), an introverted teenager who decides to start filming his entire life. One night, he goes to a party with his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and while there, they discover a mysterious crater in the ground. After investigating its contents with the senior class president candidate, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the three boys begin to develop mysterious telekinetic abilities. And, as you might be able to guess, not everything goes smoothly.
Chronicle does a really interesting job of mashing up elements of superhero movies, teen comedies, horror films, and “indie” dramas to make something pretty unique. It plays things straight (well, as much as you can in a movie about teens with superpowers), and it’s a lot of fun to see the characters react to their newfound abilities. They don’t go out and save people or defeat bad guys. They just play dumb pranks and laugh about it. Of course, things get out of hand (and the film arguably goes too far over the top in the last 20 minutes), but I like that there’s never any supervillain to defeat in Chronicle. The conflict comes from the boys’ own lack of control, their personal lives, and from the dynamics within their group.
The “found footage” style of filmmaking suits the intimate feeling of the film well. The filmmakers make the best of it, and I liked that they used other types of cameras (security cameras, a fellow student shooting video blogs) to cull “found” footage from. The lack of music in this movie is also unconventional, and the substitute soundtrack (which includes a lot of background noise and silence) proves to be quite effective. The filmmakers also play around with the editing, and while the found footage approach may not be completely necessary to this film, it’s nice to see the filmmakers use it in a logical and effective way.
But aside from the construction of the film, Chronicle is a movie that relies heavily on character development. This isn’t a “superhero movie” in the conventional sense, and there isn’t a lot of action. It’s important that the audience cares about the three main characters, and I definitely cared about all of them. Andrew, Matt, and Steve are all distinct and have their own quirks, yet it makes sense that they would bond over these extraordinary circumstances. We don’t get a lot of backstory, yet we know who they all are. The screenplay, aside from a few cheesy lines, is strong and paints these characters in a believable way.
The movie also wouldn’t work without good actors. DeHaan, who looks like a young Leonardo DiCaprio, has the most emotionally exposed character, and he does a good job of making us sympathize with Andrew, but also makes the turns that his character takes feel (mostly) believable. Jordan, who was great on Friday Night Lights, is very charismatic. Steve is a character who’s confident to the point of occasional cockiness, and Jordan does a great job of conveying that while still making Steve likeable. Russell was the weaker link in the cast, but he’s still fine.
Chronicle is only 84 minutes long, and that feels like the perfect length. It’s a really fun time at the movies, and, most importantly, it creates characters that you become invested in.