From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.
This one is from February 16th, 2014…
As inevitable as the setting sun, eventually two of cinema’s most recent obsessions–the found footage and superhero genres–were destined to collide, yet no one surely predicted in such a strong manner as Chronicle.
Josh Trank’s compact, relatively low budget blend of handheld camerawork and the superhero (or should that be villain?) origin story blasts out of nowhere as a remarkably assured piece of work, telling a story that has it’s roots in decades of comic-book lore while being entirely original, and managing to utilise the found footage gimmick in order to tell a character story that starts casually and builds to a gripping climax.
The simple fact is Trank’s film probably shouldn’t have been this good.
Let’s face it, much as this is an original story, the fingerprints of many comic-book stories are here.
Our protagonist, Dane Dehaan’s Andrew, is a new age, real world Peter Parker; nerdy, shy and unpopular at school, uncomfortable in his own skin, and struggling under the weight of Michael Kelly’s angry, violent father & a dying, bed bound mother. Andrew begins filming to create a barrier between his own deep seated, quiet rage & frustration & the world around him, and Dehaan quite superbly builds the guy from a shy loser into a boiling cauldron of rage, as Trank & Max Landis’ script manages to cleverly introduce a mythology behind him that even lends him a potential ‘super’ name in the ‘Apex Predator’, though the film never goes that far in shoving the point down our throat.
For once, it’s not at all post-modern or self-referential either – our leads gifted the telekinetic powers that form the story never compare themselves to Marvel or DC characters they grew up reading; Trank plays it comedic with an undercurrent of straight, almost like a found footage Jackass that morphs into something far darker and stranger.
That’s another reason Chronicle is so impressive in only around 80 minutes of screen time, because Trank superbly manages to deepen and blacken his characters and narrative without it ever feeling forced. The first half as we meet Andrew & Michael B. Jordan’s popular, jokey Steve & Alex Russell’s cool, philosophical Matt is playful, following their encounter with the strange underground object that gifts them their powers–the source of which Trank & Landis make incidental, only deepening the mystery–and importantly it’s believable; if this happened to us, we would play around, do pranks, impress our friends with tricks.
And the reason we buy how dark is gets is because Trank constructs Andrew so well, keeping that rage bubbling amidst the fun, so when things explode it all feels very earned. It allows him to deliver a whomping, exciting finish that holds up to many a huge budget superhero movie–infact it’s like a compact, far better & more emotional version of Man of Steel‘s last 40 minutes–where you care about what’s happening, as Trank employs every trick of the camera to aid the showdown. Various different kinds of cameras & modern tech are used to detail the story throughout Chronicle actually, most increasingly inventive & well staged.
Chronicle really is modern found footage filmmaking at its best, simply because beyond the gimmick fusing superhero heroics, it’s clever and full of underlying commentary concerning evolution & even riffing from established tropes of the genre without ever succumbing to obvious reference, and importantly the main characters are likeable, well developed & acted, and you will be invested in the journey they undertake. Quite how Josh Trank managed to put something this well directed & edited in such a short running time, I have no idea – but it’s a calling card of a talented new filmmaker & indeed this deserves to be a wake up call to any lumbering behemoth blockbusters playing it safe.
Damn fine work.