Movie Review: Chronicle

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

The latest entry in the new sub-genre of “found footage” or “POV films,” Chronicle does its progenitors one better, by breaking out of the strictly horror mode of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity series. That’s the good news. The bad news is that while the film had an opportunity to tell an involved story, it becomes as lazy as a proverbial high school senior on a sunny day in May … and takes the easy way out.

Speaking of high school seniors, Chronicle chronicles three. We meet Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the glad-handing soon-to-be school president, top athlete and all-around campus king. He’s only on casual speaking terms with Matt (Alex Russell), a handsome brainiac who plays it cool and overly confident, fond of throwing arcane bits of philosophic minutia into his patter in order to impress. His cousin Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is an inveterate loner who gets a double dose of bad every day: His mother is dying, and his father Richard (Michael Kelly), a messed-up retired firefighter, uses his son as a punching bag, blaming his kid for everything that’s gone wrong in Richard’s life.

The device of the POV-cam starts immediately, with Andrew having bought a camera under the auspices of recording his father’s abuse. We see Andrew’s mirrored, closed bedroom door, the camera reflected in it, as the door shakes from Andrew’s father’s pounding. Andrew’s voice rings out loud and clear: “I’m filming this.” We hear the father walking away – and for once, the son wins. Andrew quickly realizes that the camera not only empowers, but acts as a shield between his severely shy self and the world.

Treating the camera like a new puppy, he takes it everywhere he goes, filming the crowded halls at school, the cheerleaders practicing on the football field and, despite his objections, to a party at an abandoned barn that cousin Matt drags him to. And it’s in the field behind the barn that Steve and Matt find a mysterious crevasse in the ground, leading to a huge tunnel below the earth’s surface. They jump in, dragging Andrew and his camera with them. No one dies; but when the three of them resurface, things have definitely changed.

Told in supposedly real-time fragments, the you-are-there concept gives us the instant immediacy of the unfolding of supernatural events, à la Cloverfield. But there’s nothing “extra” about these particular terrestrials; the superpowers come from within the boys themselves, as they discover and harness their new skills into something quite formidable.

Unfortunately, the Andrew-as-the-camera-lens schtick is clever but ultimately pulls too much attention away from the story. Look, Andrew can levitate the camera into an overhead shot! Look, Andrew may be banged up, but we can now rely on a hospital security cam! Or a bank teller cam, or a police dashboard cam. Or an iPhone. So much effort goes into the filmmakers’ exploitation of the gimmick, that the story stays woefully flat. What’s the issue with Andrew’s father? What caused his seething paternal hatred? And if the film is going to bother to include Andrew’s mother, why treat her as a passive body in a bed?

It’s not as if filmmakers Josh Trank and Max Landis can’t write – all three of the lead characters are well-depicted, and the actors give it their all. In particular, DeHaan is a standout, his character evolving from a sadsack to a psychopath, unable to find the way back to his humanity.

But by the third act, relentless mayhem trumps all else and rather than being engaged, we are pummeled into disinterest … not unlike the malaise we suffer from any and all over-the-top Michael Bay barrage-fests. Yes, Chronicle speaks to our current societal need to journalize each and every element of our day, twittering, facebooking, iPhoto-ing it all, whether or not every fact is all that compelling. Ironically, what started off here as a fascinating entertainment similarly gets sidetracked in the priority to report rather than reveal.

Quibbles aside, Chronicle sets a new bar in the “found footage” genre … and for that alone, we have to give it a cam-thumbs’ up.

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Rating on a scale of 5 instances of flying off the handle: 3

Release date: February 3, 2012
Directed by: Josh Trank
Screenplay by: Max Landis
Story by: Josh Trank and Max Landis
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 83 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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