2012, Directed by Josh Trank
Written between 13th and 14th April 2013
On the surface, Chronicle is filled with enough tropes to make it seem very tired and perhaps just a little uninspired. It's a found-footage movie, there are teenagers with superpowers whose abilities force them to undergo a coming-of-age story. Luckily, there are other things at work in Chronicle that save it from the scrap-heap and ensure its place as one of 2012's more interesting low-budget flicks - a strong cast of young actors, a hyper-realistic take on the genre and a dark twist that was executed with a fine finesse.
Three teenagers discover an object in the woods that grants them superpowers. They are the neurotic and unpopular Andrew, who lives with his dying mother and ridiculously abusive father, his cousin Matt, who is constantly trying to impress former girlfriend Casey, and the everyman popular guy Steve. The three find an artefact in a hole in the woods, and the next day they've been granted powers - telekenesis, flight and the ability to form shields around themselves. At first they use their powers to mess around, but after Andrew puts someone in hospital, they decide to regulate themselves. Steve drives Andrew to use his powers in a talent show, improving his popularity, until an incident leads to further humiliation. Steve is killed, and Matt ends up having to face Andrew, who wreaks havoc upon the city.
Contrary to expectation, the tale is told from Andrew's point of view - on its own, it stands as a half-decent story of an abused, isolated teenager who takes out his pent-up wrath and indignation upon the world. The show deliberately avoids making comic-book comparisons (almost strangely at times), but I don't really mind that, so I'd call Andrew's story the archetypical super-villain origin story. Except, you know, transplanted into reality, where the morality plays involved are a hell of a lot more complex. You don't really feel sorry for the assholes that Andrew ends up torturing, and you sorta wish that he could have gotten to kill his dad, and yet at the same time you can see that he's morphed into someone with very little self-control.
And thus comes the film's key gimmick. The found-footage aspect of the movie is always done flawlessly, and Trank's direction in this regard is quite brilliant considering that while the genre is known for stretching reality in order to get everything filmed, this story actually hinges the fact that Andrew (and later others) are filming everything as an insight into his personality. It's an early indication that Andrew isn't quite right in the head, and is complimented wonderfully as he uses his speciality power, telekenesis, to switch-up the camera angles.
Chronicle's virtues are in the subtlety and finesse that comes with the execution of the premise - the way the characterisations flow throughout the story, and the way that real issues of gray morality are applied to standard superhero cliches in a way that doesn't feel like it's trying to make a point. The nature of its premise means that a lot of the time a few of the other characters felt left out, but that didn't matter because it did enough with the rest of them to feel worthwhile. It may not be perfect, but it's fun, refreshing and at times quite wonderfully deranged.