The Superhero movie and the “found footage” film seem like perfect bedfellows on paper. Individually, both make up a large portion of the chum Hollywood serves us on weekly basis, so it’s a genre marriage that looks especially lucrative from a marketing perspective. Yet when has promise alone (fabricated by way of public relations) ever guaranteed anything but opening weekend ticket sales? Well, Chronicle, Josh Trank’s ripe stew of cliché characters, predictable scenarios, and crummy CGI, is a confirmation of said cash-grab, and its shameless predictability and cheap looking high-wire action prove it could care less about raising the bar.
Three high school friends (the outcast, the politician, the jock) stumble upon a hole in the ground only to realize they’ve been imbued with superhuman powers that grow stronger over time. Since Chronicle is a masterful exercise in stating the obvious, it’s not surprising when one character declares, “it’s like a muscle!” What starts out as all fun and games (pranks by way of telekinesis, flying through the air), quickly begins to amplify each boy’s hidden desires, inevitably causing them to turn on each other. At the center of this duress is Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a sad sack outcast who begins to use his powers to express the rage he feels toward an abusive father and cancer-stricken mother.
Told using the found footage (by whom?) captured on Andrew’s digital video camera, only occasionally cutting to surveillance and cell phone feeds for coverage purposes, Chronicle has one fascinating trick up its sleeve. Andrew’s powers enable him to pick up objects (cars, people, guns) with his mind, using them as tools or weapons when cornered. The same goes for his camera, which he uses to film the more dramatic moments in smooth and indulgent long takes, relishing the pure control he has over the filmed image. It’s a brilliant idea for motivated camera movement reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s ghostly aesthetic in Enter the Void, and the only sign of dynamism in an unthinking film that often acts (and reacts) on impulse.
Chronicle ends up exactly where you’d expect, it’s heroes experiencing one last meltdown that makes their private power struggle incredibly public for all of downtown Seattle to see. Ultimately, the tired action looks simply re-packaged using the visual immediacy of Cloverfield as its source, while the entire “pitfall of power” arc is blatantly ripped from basically every comic book film ever made. And then there’s the simplistic morality surrounding Andrew’s social/familial plight, a washed over subplot so pandering it feels ripped from an episode of Degrassi Junior High. Cry me a river, Superman.
Chronicle opens wide on Friday, February 3.