Less than a month ago, when the numerous lists of ‘What to Watch in 2012’ fell into the world, barely a sentence was given over to the relatively unknown Chronicle. A low-budget, faux-documentary, superhero flick could never compete for column inches as film lovers clambered for morsels of information on The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-man. More fool us. Because when the lists of ‘What you should have watched in 2012’ are compiled, one thing is guaranteed: Chronicle‘s lack of coverage will be justifiably rectified.
Rejected by his classmates, abused by his father and struggling to cope with his mother’s fatal illness, the only teenage kicks befalling Andrew are swift and to the nuts. Choosing to document his misery with an ever present camcorder only pushes those close to him further away, including the one person who offers Andrew any companionship at all, his cousin Matt.
When Matt drags Andrew to a party attended by the school’s most popular kid, Steve Montgomery, rejections and violent confrontations make the evening as disappointingly familiar to Andrew as ever. The discovery of a seemingly bottomless hole in the ground outside the party, however, has the capacity to completely transform the lives of the three teens.
Chronicle‘s major strength – and every man, woman and child should pray that if Hollywood takes note of one thing from its success it’s this – is that it offers equal time to genuine character development as it does to scenes of ‘kids twatting about with cool powers’. In many of the best scenes it effortlessly combines the two. Sure this is a high school populated by familiar types – loner, bully, cheerleaders – but thanks to a clever script they never feel like stereotypes.
In the role of Steve Montgomery, the popular kid hoping to run for president one day, (and with a personality so winning you’ll believe he could) it’s a delight to see Michael B. Jordan on the big screen. Cries of “where’s Wallace?” from The Wire aficionados will be met with a triumphant “here’s Wallace” as Jordan turns in a role and a performance that should see the one-time, small-screen hopper finding his inbox inundated from this Friday onwards. What he lacks in telekinetic Lego building he more than makes up for in an avalanche of charisma.
One particular and soon to be exalted scene sees Steve hoisting the downtrodden Andrew up onto the social ladder with support and encouragement. It’s heartbreakingly well played by both Jordan and Dehaan, as the no-hoper glimpsing happiness for the first time. It’s in moments such as this that writer/director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis (yes relation) show their main hand. We’re following Carrie White, not Peter Parker, and Dehaan’s mannerisms infuse the film with an inescapable sense of foreboding. From the opening moments, his weathered, ‘all the world is against me’ face guarantees all’s not well, and chances are, it won’t end well either.
The one-camera set-up, so often ridiculed by uncharitable audiences in the likes of, say, Cloverfield (“Put the fucker down and run!”) only begins as a little gimicky – a by-product of making a film with ambition and comparatively little cash – but is quickly accepted, even championed. Instead of coming across as Blair Witchy, the all-seeing camera eye acts as it does in American Beauty, uncovering a home life and family at the centre of all of Andrew’s problems.
Comparisons to Carrie and American Beauty in a film about teenagers who can fly? Too right. Because despite its few, mainly financially related, flaws Chronicle thoroughly deserves its high acclaim.
Hey kids/geeks/lovers of superior storytelling, welcome to your new favourite movie. As occupied with actual characters as it is with inventive set-pieces, Chronicle has set a mighty high benchmark for the big boys of summer to live up to. And it’s done it with a fraction of the purse. The Amazing Chronicle Rises indeed.