Proving that you don’t need big stars, a famous license or a megabudget to craft a genuinely fresh and engaging blockbuster, Chronicle comes out of left field to become a surprise critical hit. The story involves three high-schoolers, philosophising Matt (Alex Russell), political Steve (Michael B Jordan) and cameraman Andrew (Dane DeHaan) who explore a conspicuous hole in the ground whilst at a rave finding inside what can only be described as a huge star-shaped mass of Kryptonite which gives all three telekinetic powers. Pretty soon their playing catch, building Lego towers and blowing up girls’ skirts, all with no hands, forming a unique if slightly fractious bond.
For a significant stretch of the running time the film plays for laughs getting great mileage from the practical jokes and stunts the trio pull in shopping centres and car parks. The three charismatic leads are wonderfully naturalistic, effortlessly convincing that this really is how three American teens would react to such superpowers, and it’s enormous fun (watch out for Steve’s priceless reaction when Andrew saves his life at one point). The pick of the bunch is clearly DeHaan as the socially awkward main character who has no trouble getting us on his side thanks to his deft characterisation and excellent handling of scenes depicting Andrew’s miserable home life (terminally ill mother, drunken bullying father).
The other selling point is the way it’s filmed, Andrew having just bought a camera to ‘film everything from here on out’. Although it shares many of the tropes of the found footage genre I didn’t read it that way. I think the context is perfect, if you and your mates get superpowers you’d film yourselves testing them out right? The camera becomes our window into their private world and is worked into the script like a fourth character. The story is even used to dispel one of the prohibitive quirks of the found footage genre, Andrew uses his powers to make the camera float meaning he can film himself. It’s also worth noting that the film is shot on more than one camera within the story and therefore can’t masquerade as found footage at all. Instead the camera works as a framing device to highlight camera culture in an the age of YouTube and video blogs, something the film openly references. It’s not enough for there to be kids with superpowers there needs to be a record of it even though they’re keeping it a secret, after all the title, when expressed as a verb instead of a noun means to record.
The concept really comes into its own in the thrilling and inventive climax which I won’t spoil except that suffice to say things go a bit awry as Andrew struggles to keep to Matt’s rules. The film has been called a live-action Akira and while it could never be as pulverising as that movie I heartily agree with this observation. In fact now that Chronicle exists that live-action New York set remake of the anime classic is not only a huge mistake of an idea but an entirely redundant one too.
In a year set to be dominated by huge superhero flicks Chronicle might just have stolen some of their thunder. Creative, entertaining and very well played, this is a must see.