Marmite. Garlic. Brussels Sprouts. Don’t worry, you’re in the right place; this is a film review. Why the hell has it began with a list of disgusting foods you ask? Well, that’s the point; to many people, they’re actually delicious. You simply either love ’em or hate ’em. Which brings us to Chronicle. First-time director Josh Trank’s low-budget sci-fi spectacle bolts itself to the vexed notion of “real” documented footage. The reasons to love this kind of style are actually reasons to hate; raw, course and tangible filmmaking that blends truth with trickery. Sucking the viewer into the plot whether they like it or not, and then spitting them out at the end all shaken and stirred. While some revel in the tremulous, hand-held realism conjured by the cast and crew, others detest; dismissing the concept-cum-gimmick as mere nauseating crap. Example? Cloverfield. Another? Paranormal Activity. One more? Troll Hunter. Chronicle, then, will enthrall just as many as it’ll appal.
Given the ultimate success of certain handheld films across a range of genres, it was only a matter of time before someone had a go at a superhero flick in a docudrama disguise. Trank’s directorial debut chronicles the events of three high school friends who gain telekentic-like superpowers after stumbling across a mysterious crystal-like-thing. Soon, though, they find their lives spiraling out of control as the cameraman and would-be baddie of the trio starts to embrace his darker side.
In a time where we’re tweeting our every thought, mood and action, updating our Facebook statuses and flushing all sorts of crap down YouTube, anybody can chronicle their day-to-day life – anybody can make a movie. It also appears that any production company can put up the cash to pretend to make a low-budget, indie film. With its sterile, static twitching camera concept and staggering effects, Chronicle falls somewhere in-between the three. It’s a product of its time; an immersive and enjoyable experience blaring with cinematic shock and awe with humour to spare.
The everyman acting of the unknown cast instils enough empathy and flat-out realism to make the super power servings palatable. Chronicle makes all this madness believable, a rare feat indeed for modern-day fantasy film. Yes, teens do play pranks, bend metal and move cars with their minds and take to the skies from time to time. Our main character’s subjection to domestic abuse and high-school bullying along with his terminally ill mother and punch-drunk dad brings Chronicle crashing down to earth, though. But not for long. Trank counteracts this dark subtext by ramping up the voltage, the laughs, the fireworks and the fantasy. His Chronicle is ambitious, immersive, subversive and boasts a barnstorming finale redolent of Akira. And like the seminal Anime classic, Chronicle is a revelation. Yes, it requires a certain predilection for found footage filmmaking, but it’s hard not to marvel at the enterprise of such a well executed concept.
The fact little effort went into a lofty viral marketing campaign means Chronicle won’t reap the initial hype and profits obtained by the likes of Cloverfield. Which doesn’t make much sense given the film’s demographic. But with its recent DVD/Blu Ray release, sales and idle talk should sky-rocket in Josh Trank’s favour. Whatever happens, Chronicle looks set to be a cult hit and possibly the catalyst for a league of sequels and spin-offs.
Anyway, the last thing I want to do is to encourage you to see a film you may not like, but seldom do you see a mainstream-friendly film this engaging and this pioneering. It’s absolutely brilliant and like all great movies, Chronicle is a rousing and fresh fusion of cinematic prowess and high-quality entertainment that breathes new life into a much chartered genre. Thought The Hunger Games was the new and exciting sci-fi saga we deserved? Think again.
Chronicle, directed by Josh Trank, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, available to rent and buy on DVD and Blu Ray from 28/05/2012