Monday, 21 May 2012

Film Review: Chronicle

Certificate: 12A (intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking)
Directed By: Josh Trank
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell, Ashley Hinshaw
Budget: $15 million
Runtime: 84 minutes
Trailer: Watch

Ugh. The 'found-footage' genre. Since the Blair Witch Project many have attempted to cash in on this relatively cheap film making technique, more often than not through some ghost yarn or another. Few have actually succeeded. The Spanish zombie flick REC and J.J. Abram's Cloverfield spring to mind as the best efforts using this medium, but more often than not I tend to view anything which falls into this genre with the utmost suspicion. It is a pleasant surprise then that Chronicle may well merit a place among the chosen few.

Rather than the traditional spooks and monsters found in these handheld movies, Chronicle -ahem- chronicles three young lads who journey into a cave of wonders only to emerge with the power of telekinesis. Being dumb teenagers they ignore traditional comic book ethics of great power coming with great responsibility, instead deciding to use their new abilities to dick around. However, as their powers only get stronger, their reckless irresponsibility comes to a head.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this all sounds rather wanky in a very Jumper-like way, but fortunately Chronicle is careful to base its characters firmly within the bounds of reality. Well, except for the flying and shit. The three unknown leads in DeHaan, Jordan and Kelly play teenagers with believable teenage problems such as the fear of social exclusion, a far cry from the hyperbolic 'issues' in many teen dramas such as The OC or Beverly Hills 90210. Yes, the opening third of the film sees the boys concerned above all with how to get laid, but this is one movie-truth which is acceptable to anyone familiar with the physiology of a teenage boy. However, events quickly darken when one of the trio abuses his power which causes a rift in the already tenuous friendship dynamics between them.

Things get very dark very quickly as the film suddenly engages its afterburners. There's something almost gritty here, almost poignant as Chronicle wades into the nature versus nurture debate. We have three teens, each bestowed an inordinate amount of power through which they can do almost anything they imagine. Two, for all their sins, are ultimately well-meaning young chaps who wouldn't hurt a fly. The other is, shall we say, 'troubled'. Each are given the same 'tools' with which to work, the only difference being their respective backgrounds. The subsequent differences in how they view and use their power is stark. In many ways, watching this unfold is the most compelling thing about Chronicle.

Perhaps the biggest critics will come from the cynics firmly entrenched in ideas of 'human nature', scoffing at the notion that three teenage boys with the power to rule the world and get laid when they like might display such morality. Yet by the same token their restraint actually sits quite well with this world view. Representing a generation that has been brought up on comics like the X-Men, even a teenager would realise that the best bet would be to keep their mouth shut less they wanted to be hunted down by The Government™ for 'experiments'.

Delivered with utmost confidence, Chronicle achieves that rarity of being genuinely unique. Well, at least for a found-footage film. What's more surprising is that even with its teen drama premise how little of the conspicuous trash associated with the genre actually makes it in here. Featuring a goading sojourn full of portent, this is definitely one of the more pleasantly unexpected movies of the year so far.