So a few days ago, someone shared a Looper video which talked about the most underrated superhero movies of the most recent era, and I was surprised that one particular film wasn’t exactly talked about, and that was the Josh Trank movie Chronicle. Seriously, why was this not talked about? I mean sure, it wasn’t a box office bomb, and was critically well-received, but so was Avengers: Age of Ultron, and they talked about that one. For shame Looper. You’ll talk about a terrible film like Push, but completely overlook this film that honestly probably has more going for it than many realize? For shame.
Now I’m not going to say that Chronicle is perfect by any means, because lord knows it’s not, and I can’t exactly say that a lot of the production has aged very well, but for a film with the budget of only about $12 million, I can’t exactly hold it against the film too much.
Chronicle bases its narrative in the style of a found footage movie, and while I can dig the found footage genre as a whole, I will open this film’s analysis on the fact that it really doesn’t feel too much like a found footage movie. What I mean here is that most found footage films out there focus on the narrative perspective of a single camera. It’s not that hard to comprehend, the idea of a found footage movie is that someone has found a singular camera, and is watching the footage on said camera. And Chronicle doesn’t do that. Instead of one camera, the story is told through multiple cameras found throughout the entirety of the film. I mean, sure, our main character, Andrew (played by Dane DeHaan) has a camera (well, he actually has two in this movie), and we see a vast majority of the film through his perspective, but then there are times where we’ll see the perspective of this random girl that is a part of the story, and if that’s not enough, it’ll give us angles from things like security cameras, news cameras, or phone cameras that random people in the background are using. While I kinda like the idea they’re going for here, it very much defeats the purpose of the idea of a found footage movie.
Another thing is that there are angles with the camera not typically possible in your average found footage movie. Now granted, this is a movie about some high school seniors that are gifted with Telekinesis, and Andrew develops a habit of making the camera float around him. Fair enough. But then we go back to the previous point of the multiple camera perspectives. There’s a point in the climax where Andrew surrounds himself with cameras, and I honestly don’t know why. I mean, granted, with his camera, he’s filming his life, and that’s fine and all, lots of people do that. But towards the end when he surrounds himself with the random phones of other people, I can only assume that by this point, the writers had written themselves into a hole, since Andrew didn’t have his camera with him anymore, and said to themselves, “Well we’re a found footage movie, but he doesn’t have his camera, so fuck it, we’ll have him take a bunch of random phones and surround himself so the audience can follow what’s going on.” I would say that this very much defeats the purpose of a found footage film. I’d say that the film would work better as a typical superhero movie, but the more I look at this narrative, I almost wonder if it works best as a found footage movie. I shouldn’t think too hard on this.
So as I said, Chronicle follows Andrew, and his two friends, Steve and Matt. Andrew buys himself a camera, intent on filming his life, and we’re quickly revealed that he lives in a dysfunctional family, in which his father is an abusive drunk, and his mother is terminally ill. Andrew is quickly established as a bit of an outcast, often picked on, often bullied, and seen as a bit of a creep. His cousin Matt invites him to a school party, where he, Andrew, and their friend Steven come upon a hole in the ground making weird noises at them. So they decide to go into it, because movie I guess.
The boys go into their secret tunnel in the middle of the woods, wander through the tunnel, which messes with the camera, and they come upon a mysterious glowing blue rock crystal thing. What this is, where it came from, or why it’s there? Your guess is as good as mine, it’s the big MacGuffin of the film. It’s there to serve one purpose, and that’s about it. The boys interact with it, the film cuts out, and a few days later, the boys have seemingly developed the power of telekinesis.
Now since boys will be boys, they go about testing their powers by pulling silly pranks, and admittedly, these can be pretty funny moments. There’s just something so very innocent about this entire sequence of them making shopping carts move away while wielding a toy lightsaber, and mentally scarring a little girl by having her see a floating teddy bear, scaring the daylights out of her. And yes, as terrible as it will sound, I get a laugh when Steve pushes a car across the parking lot and confuses the person who parked it.
The way the three go about discovering just what they’re capable of with their newfound power is also a lot of fun. It goes beyond simple pranks, and mischief. Some very fun concepts are explored in what they do with their telekinesis, such as creating invisible barriers, or crafting lego Seattle Space Needles (Andrew is a bit of a show-off). I think they go a bit overboard with the talent show scene which pays out like a clichéd unpopular kid suddenly wins everyone over because talent sequence, but this movie is home to one of the absolute best, if not the absolute best flying scenes I have ever seen in any superhero movie.
The way this movie approaches flight is absolutely fantastic. At first it’s super chill in how it does it, showing Steve just kinda lounging around, trying to teach it to both Andrew and Matt with this slow and steady learning pace. You seen them struggling, almost like they’re learning how to ride a bike again, and then it transitions into them all zooming across the skies at super fast speeds, cheering like any sane person would at such a discovery. I even love how they kinda address that flying at that height would be very freezing. I mean, sure they don’t address every point that Because Science addresses in why no one would actually want this kind of flight, I do dig that they don’t just completely Superman it. (They don’t do that until later.) Their joy and excitement at learning how to fly is easily one of the things that makes this movie so damn fun.
Now of course, this movie isn’t without the boys getting into some actual trouble, and they very quickly realize that (as cliche as this will sound), with great power comes great responsibility. They realize that as their powers get stronger and stronger, they have the capacity to do some real harm to people, and while this should come as no big shock, the way they discover this as well feels very fresh and believable. This is far from your typical superhero origins story. In fact, a lot might call it quite the opposite, though I’m hesitant to call it a supervillain origin story either. More on that shortly. When they realize they can actually put a lot of people in danger with their abilities, and force themselves to ground their abilities, it very much feels natural and something someone their age might feel. And as they progress, and things start to get out of hand, eventually leading to the death of Steve, you can see just how fast things hit the fan.
This of course brings us back to Andrew. The kid who is in a dysfunctional family with an abusive dad, and a dying mom. Arguably, this might be the biggest thing I’m not sure how to analyze, because I both love and hate what this movie does with Andrew. You see, one of the biggest criticisms I see aimed at this movie is that Andrew’s character doesn’t really go through a lot of development. One of the core SuperGeeks here went as far to say that simply having Andrew go crazy doesn’t constitute as character development. The thing is… it’s not supposed to.
I don’t think you should be viewing Andrew as a typical character. I mean not only is the found footage approach to film going to hinder character development in the way a typical movie normally would approach a character, but you need to really take into perspective everything that Andrew has been going on through life here. Andrew has had to put up with years and years of physical and mental abuse from his father, and classmates. Even his cousin Matt distanced himself from Andrew, and when life gets too hard, Andrew begins to take life into his own hands.
Andrew looks at his powers as something that makes him superior to other people. And he quickly gains a dangerous mindset that isn’t so much meant to make him look insane, but broken. You take away Andrew’s telekinesis, give him a gun, he’s your next Columbine Shooter. And no, this isn’t a tasteless joke, this is a legit comparison. You might think that Andrew goes from 1 to 11 in his vendetta against the world, but no one saw the Columbine Massacre coming in 1997. Two distressed, highly disturbed teenagers shocked the entire nation with one horrifying tragedy. And I can’t help but see Chronicle as a bit of a metaphor in this aspect.
You might think Andrew goes a little overboard with his monologues of apex predators and whatnot, but this mindset he has is eerily similar to what these kinds of people have. I remember the day the Columbine Massacre happened, and how it affected my mother in particular. When I grew older to fully understand this event, and looked further into it, there was just so much I couldn’t believe about the two who initiated such an event. Their mindset was highly disturbing, and Andrew very much has a similar mindset. You might think him declaring himself an apex predator is cheesy in the moment, but I mean it fits the character. A guy who’s no longer able to be reasoned with, will do everything he can to hurt anything and anyone around him, until he is eventually taken down.
I’ll step aside from the depressing school violence comparisons here because I’m not going to say that the film’s night climax in Seattle is exactly perfect. I do feel like it goes just a little bit over the top. While again, things like transitioning between certain camera angles, news cameras, phone camera’s, police dash cams, and security camera footage is a pretty neat idea, it does make for a rather weird found footage movie. Now I don’t want to say that this movie was just trying to do what Cloverfield did back in 2008, becauseI never felt like it was at all trying to imitate that film, but I mean again, in so many ways it felt like they wrote themselves into a corner here when trying to show us Matt and Andrew flying through the Seattle skyline, smashing into buildings, through walls (did they get durability from the magic rock as well?), and whatnot.
And yes, I do believe that Andrew in his last moment does go over the top. While I will defend his mental breakdown for the reasons stated, I can’t help but laugh when he’s shouting like Goku as he tries to pretty much unleash his full potential in this climactic fight scene. And I do wonder if Matt screams out “Andrew!” more times than Kaneda screams out “Tetsuo!” in Akira. Or Finn shouting out “Rey!” as often as he does in the latest Star Wars movies… okay Finn probably wins that.
Now when all this ends, I do believe the film ends on a very touching moment, and I won’t spoil it for those who are interested in this film. And I do believe that the overall taste the film leaves is very good. It doesn’t exactly leave you on a definite ending, but honestly, I don’t think it needs to. It hints at a sequel, but I don’t think it needs one. I mean, sure, the film doesn’t properly explain everything that happens to them in this film, it doesn’t explain how Matt and Steve tend to know when Andrew is in emotional distress, and whatnot, but in the same way, it didn’t need to do this anymore than it needed to explain where the magic rock came from. Sometimes, it’s best to leave these kinds of things up to the imagination.
So where does that leave Chronicle?
Chronicle has its fair share of problems admittedly. But in the same way, I do believe it has far more going for it than people give credit for. Granted, around this point in time, I was not exactly onboard with the MCU, and thought costumed superheroes were pretty dorky, and I much preferred the approach like this film, or even Heroes had in its heyday. But even 8 years later, I find this film not only to be thoroughly enjoyable, but surprisingly complex for a simple movie about three boys who find out they have extraordinary abilities. I’m not going to say it’s a masterpiece of social commentary, and I admittedly may be overthinking some aspects of the film here, but it is nice to see a superhero movie with substance that goes beyond your typical superhero trope story. I haven’t seen another superhero movie quite like this one, and the fact that so little people talk about it just doesn’t do it a service if you ask me.
Is it underrated? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. I get that the found-footage genre isn’t for everyone, and that on first glance, seeing the characters doing what they do in this film might seem odd or whatnot, but I do believe it is by design. If you’re curious about this film, give it a watch. I’m willing to bet there’s something inside you might enjoy. Might even get you thinking. If anything, at least check out those flying scenes. I’m telling you, those kick ass.