If you had the power to do virtually whatever you wanted, wouldn’t you first want to have fun? As a film-maker, like as a flying man from the funny pages, you are placed in this exact position of power and yet so often these days it seems common for the first instinct of creators to be skewing serious. “Chronicle” appears to be an exceptional adherence to that initial rule, in that it takes a n interesting premise and has fun with it. Because of this approach it looks to many like a fun if unnecessary film though in actually it delivers that and much, much more. Many have judged the film on first glance: they simply see it as yet another superhero film and they think the teenage leads suggest that the material may be just as juvenile as its protagonists, while the handheld style will scare off scores of the viewers still interested; those that are either made sick by the shaky screen or are simply sick of what has now become a tired and overused trope. Those that are still interested enough in the picture to see it on the big screen probably aren’t the type to overthink things like style or genre but are going for primitive reasons, primarily that urge to have fun and these people are in for a treat.
“Chronicle” is an intense emotional and visceral experience, it draws you into the screen and drags you along on this incredible, thrilling roller-coaster ride ; which, though similair to so much that you’ve seen before is made all the more memorable by virtue of your actual involvement within it. I was engaged by this throughout, more than I have been by any other film this year. You’ll feel as if you, yourself have become superhuman, so relateable are these boys and their actions; there are scenes that will have real chills running down your spine, so magical the maneuvering within them. Though that’s all that really needs to be said of sitting there staring at the screen it’s not the end of the review; because delivering a simple, fun story and doing it well is actually a very difficult act and something that is the bane of a whole host of contemporary blockbuster cinema.
For one the filmmakers have to realize that simple does not equate to stupid; we don’t want to have to think too much in the cinema but that doesn’t mean that you can get out of it too. “Chronicle”, for all it’s action and childish antics, is actually a film with a lot of ideas and it delivers them almost invisibly. The first time that the film attempts to insert something philosophical into its script I literally balked, two characters sit in the car singing along to the radio when one casually introduces Schopenhauer into the conversation; I thought to myself “Is this a joke?” and thankfully it was, that character is known for contrived references and his inappropriate implementation of them is a point of comedy. This approach renders the references as palatable but not impotent, we laugh at them but their meaning still moves through. We still wonder about the will power of man and the effect that power has on us as a species but it never feels like an intellectual exercise, just a natural continuation of the characters plight.
The way that the film treats their superhuman nature is similarly subtle, you could for instance forget entirely that what you are watching is actually a superhero story, so free is it of those traditional tropes. The film is a reversed realistic reconstruction of this most prevalent of genres, in that instead of revisiting the now stale ’superheroes without powers’ perversion “Chronicle” keeps the traditional radioactive macguffin in its place to provide its random discoverers with great power, but never feels the need to also imbue them with the great responsibility of using their gifts for good, it never makes them a hero in the traditional sense. In fact it always deals in moral grays and is much more realistic for it. That is until the end when the two surviving boys are bashed back into the stereotypical moulds of hero and villain, though neither ever asked nor wanted those roles. The move is understandable but also unnecessary, sure the fight scenes work better when we have someone to root for but changing the focus onto the cousin at the last minute simply feels forced, which is a shame since everything until then is the opposite.
The quality of the action there in that finale though more than makes up for that, in fact there is a frenetic excitement present throughout the entire film even when the scope is much smaller and a lot of this is due to the way the story is filmed. Though the found footage format has fast lost its sheen and novelty “Chronicle”, the title quite literal, manages to incorporate its corporeal camera in a clever and cohesive way. The lead is shy and wants something to shield him from the real world and the camera fits that role, then when they discover their abilities they do what all teens now would and document them on video; because these days things don’t happen unless you can share them on social media. The technical approach is also admirable; its never used as an excuse for a lack of cinematic technique, in fact the film goes out of its way to still allow good cinematography by having the characters learn to float the camera, or cameras as the case may be. The camera is also actually involved in all of the action; it’s thrown, dropped, caught and always capturing every event that takes place; and since we are that camera we’re also involved intimately, not just watching.
So though “Chronicle” is still somewhat derivative and disposable due to its inherent nature it manages to make the very best of what it is: it makes us think but isn’t smarmy, it’s superheroes without silly names or costumes and has the intimacy of found footage without the forced authenticity but most of all it delivers us stupid fun smartly. It’s magical escapism, it’s cinema, enjoy it.