Friday, 5 April 2013

Film Review | Chronicle (2012)

There will always be types of film that feel as though they're reaching saturation point and either need to be left alone for a while, or need someone to do something so radical with them that they become fresh and interesting again. Found footage films currently fall into this category, as do superhero origin stories. Writer and director Josh Trank's decision to combine these two subgenres in his debut feature Chronicle can therefore be seen as either very brave or very stupid. As things turn out, he lands somewhere in the middle.

The found footage style of shooting turns out to be both a blessing and a curse, working at its best when combined with the superhuman abilities the three main characters gain; some of the most stylish moments throughout the film come from when Trank has the handheld camera float around the action, usually through Andrew's (Dane DeHaan) telekinesis. The question therefore has to be asked why Trank felt the need to present his film through found footage rather than just creating a realistic style of cinematography, something of which he is clearly capable.

More often, however, the reasons for characters to be filming at all feel too contrived to the point of becoming really quite distracting. Andrew's reasons for choosing to film his life at the start feel flimsy, and whilst it's easy to believe he would want to get footage of the powers he and his friends develop, there are plenty of moments where his filming feels entirely nonsensical. There are too many other occasions where other characters have to explain away the fact that they are filming, which begs the question once again why Trank chose to stick so stubbornly to the found footage style (at times to the detriment of his film) instead of opting for a combination of handheld and traditional camera shots.

As an origins story, the film does bring some fresh ideas to the table, with Trank choosing not to explain every element of his story. To the film's benefit the source of the trio's powers isn't dwelt upon, and the inclusion of the nosebleed side effect that the friends experience make proceedings feel all the more mysterious and sinister. Structurally, the film's opening and closing acts are stronger than the middle, which ultimately drags despite a handful of interesting elements. A lot of the time it's almost like you're watching a series of YouTube clips of people with superpowers pratting about. It's amusing at first, but soon loses its novelty. Thankfully, Trank manages to pull off a gripping and exciting finale, going all out with the superpower special effects at exactly the right moment.

Other elements to the story feel underdeveloped, most notably a great many of the characters. For the majority of the film, Andrew is a stereotypical social outcast with a troubled home life that is never explored in enough detail, his sickly mother and abusive father never becoming much more than one-note characters. Steve (Michael B. Jordan) again feels lacking in depth, his friendship with the other two rarely feeling natural. Matt (Alex Russell) is the most frustrating of the three, quoting philosophy irritatingly - and apparently for no real reason - at the start of the film, and never really settling as a character into anything consistent. It's a shame, because all three young leads put in solid performances despite the unconvincing characters they are portraying.

In the end, Chronicle is flawed but entertaining. There's enough here to make it feel worthwhile and evidence of plenty of invention and style from Trank. A reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise is currently in the Trank's future career; with the right script behind the project, and based on the positive elements seen in Chronicle, it could be a great match of director to franchise, and the perfect opportunity for Trank to remedy some of the mistakes made in his first film.


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