Found footage is a gimmick that, for a lot of people, does not bode well. Representative of either extreme, vomit-inducing shakey-cam, or just general rubbishness - and yes, I'm looking at you, Blair Witch. But there are those of us who have a penchant for first-person shenanigans - and we've been richly rewarded for our tolerance with excellent movies such as Cloverfield and the first Paranormal Activity. And it's this subset of the population that will almost immediately fall in love with Chronicle.
Telling the story of an unpopular kid named Andrew, who acquires a 'old' video camera to not only create a barrier between himself and the real world, but also to document the systematic abuse that he suffers at the hands of his father. The trials of high school life inevitably get in the way, though, and he, his cousin and the most popular kid at school find themselves in a strange underground cave, where a glowing rock formation pulses with energy, and subsequently knocks them out. They wake up above ground, with no recollection of what happened - but whatever it was, they now have telekinetic abilities, and the film explores quite what the average high-school student might do in this predicament.
For reasons that'll become clear further down, let's start with heaping the praise on it.
Story-wise, it's not the most original premise, but what it does have is a fresh take on the usual formula of the every-man superhero story. It's a flipside of Kick-Ass and Super's coin - or rather, it strips the usual superhero story of the 'hero' part, rather than the 'super' part. Filtering this through the rogues gallery of the American high-school is both ingenious and a no-brainer, and whilst it's been done before, in a year where Marvel and DC will be showboating with their primary film franchises, this is refreshingly small and simple, with a character-driven story that pushes forward at exactly the right pace. Story-turns - super-power granting rocks aside - never seem contrived, and the dialogue crackles with authenticity.
It's also wonderfully performed by the core ensemble - with Michael B Jordan (of The Wire fame) putting in a particularly good performance, turning the popular, class-president archetype into an intriguing study in empathy: his Steve's ingratiation with Dane DeHaan and Alex Russell's losers not simply down to their single shared experience, but as the act of a genuinely kind individual. DeHaan escalates his performance as Andrew remarkably, and whilst Russell, playing the main character's stoner cousin, takes a little while to get warmed up, by the end, you're hardly holding it against him.
So, all this praise under advisement, you can now understand my full meaning when I say that somewhere in here, there is a far, far better movie. The sad fact of the matter is that what prevents it from better is also its core gimmick - the found footage stylings. Had they transitioned between found footage and more traditionally cinematic shots in the manner of District 9, this could've been genuinely one of the best superhero movies in years.
There are attempts at this towards the end, but it never actually emerges from within the found footage box, and because of this, they have to come up with more and more contrived reasons to have cameras in the frame. Don't get me wrong - the manner in which they tackle it is ingenious, and there is a commentary about quite how often, in the digital age, there is someone with a camera watching you, but the sense of contrivance never goes away. There's also a bit of awkwardness in the finale thanks to this, where there's a series of transitions between cameras in the action and the news helicopter that's trying to document it. The odd shift in audio dynamic as the view flicks between these two points mars what is otherwise an exhilarating set piece.
There're a few moments of odd dialogue that clunk a little, a couple of dubious directorial decisions and a few ropey special effects scattered about, but these aren't really noticeable thanks to the lightning fast pacing. The plot is a little sign-posted in terms of predictability, and it's incredibly streamlined, with a run-time of a mere 83 minutes. It doesn't make it any less satisfying, thanks to the relatively fresh angle, but a cynic might brand it simplistic were he to skip breakfast the day he saw it.
All-in-all, it's tough to criticise something that's as technically proficient, visually engaging and thoroughly entertaining as this. The previous criticisms have been pondered for a good while before committing to t'internet, and even now I'm struggling to really justify them. It's a real cinema movie too- sparklingly clear visuals combining with a soundtrack whose bass rattles bones, engrossing you in the experience. There is that niggling sensation that a better movie could've been made given more money and more time, but it's just not enough to derail it. A fresh, darkly intriguing take on the superhero formula, and a great action movie to boot, we can only hope round two is bigger and bolder - because what a treat we'd be in for.