“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Ben Parker, Spiderman.  

You know the deal: a ridiculed youngster has a tough life, stumbles across something extraordinary, inherits super powers and valiantly attempts to master them for the greater good of humanity. It’s generic, tried and tested, and continues to rake in the dollars at the box office. 

More often than not, this is the structural foundation that establishes the classic superhero narrative, but when the popular faux documentary paradigm gets an unfamiliar superhero makeover  in director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis’ Chronicle, an unrelenting sensory barrage of anarchy and irresponsibility ensues that would surely have Spidy’s poor Uncle Ben barrel-rolling in his grave. 

The story follows Andrew (Dane DeHaan): a high school senior who epitomises the stock social outcast, wandering the corridors of school with only his video camera for company, encountering bullies and other judgemental cliques, before returning home to his oppressive family surroundings where his mother lies terminally ill and his alcoholic father dictatorially explodes into bouts of violent rage. 

Andrew’s life seems destined to remain entrapped in this perpetual despair until one day at a party he, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and school presidential candidate Steve (Michael B. Jordan) encounter a cave-like crater in a wooded clearing that is inhabited by an undisclosed extraterrestrial entity emanating an alluring blue light. Insisting that Andrew captures the elusive light-emitting source on film, the boys descend into the cave, and the event that transpires leaves them inexplicably empowered with telekinetic abilities. 

The way that Chronicle charts the fun and antics of its protagonists as they get to grips with their newly acquired powers is refreshing in a genre which is so often littered with do-gooders who become prudes to subversion and subsequently prohibit the empathy that many fantasists out there crave. 

The performances by the three leads are composed and well rounded but are still not convincing enough to satisfy the illusion of ‘real life’ that faux documentaries strive so relentlessly to convey. Nevertheless, there is something strangely authentic about the characters’ (mis)use of their powers, and unlike their airborne excursions, somehow remain grounded in a feasible mimetic reality.  

It is very difficult to fault the concise yet intricate assembly of the film’s screenplay by Max Landis (the son of legendary director John Landis). For a commercial film with a running time of only 84 minutes, he manages to weave enough of a prologue into Andrew’s pathos to establish his social alienation but without dwelling on it to derive more sympathy than is necessary before hurtling us straight into the action of the film.  

Andrew is unequivocally the most focal character because it is he who is so often telekinetically in control of the camera’s gaze and subjectively dictates what the audience can see: imbued with a status of power and dominance that had eluded him in every other context of his previously normal life. 

There are numerous portentous childhood relics that congest Andrew’s room and allude to his fascination with the archetypal culture of ‘the hero’ that he aspires to emulate – not least a childish drawing of a blood stained warrior next to his mirror in the establishing shot of the film. His rite of passage into manhood, which coincides with his pursuit of status within the social hierarchy, spirals into a vortex of delusional omnipotence and his potential for cataclysmic entropy becomes an irrepressible force.   

Superhero films often confront the escapist desire to embody an ideal that will alleviate the protagonist from the pressures of modernity that constrict them, and witnessing Andrew’s domestic existence unfold, this trope is all too applicable to him. All of the scenes that take place in his home are underscored by poignantly non-synchronous sounds of pain, melancholy and misery, which, to an extent, validate his narcissistic transformation. It is simple compositional deployments such as these that effectively punctuate the film’s subtextual probing of adolescent enlightenment, morality, and the theme of realising one’s potential with aplomb. 

Some of Chronicle’s special effects and action set-pieces are quite simply exceptional and blow the mind in a way that 2008’s Cloverfield (the only other American film I deem vaguely comparable regarding genre) could not. 

Like Cloverfield before it, many have been hasty in placing Chronicle in the bracket of a ‘found footage’ film, but there are far too many illogicalities to sustain the facade that what the viewer is watching is footage that has been retrieved after the events of the narrative have concluded. For example, footage is also shot and displayed from the public’s camera phones, live news broadcasts, police cars and helicopters, as well as from a character called Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) who goes around filming for her blog. These discontinuities are only implausible if categorising Chronicle as a ‘found footage’ film, but otherwise it does nothing to detract from what is a truly accomplished spectacle. 

Chronicle is a startlingly original and provocative debut from Trank which is sure to enrapture superhero purists as well as those who would normally shy away from the big budgeted franchises of the genre; perhaps appealing to the latter even more so. Like young Alice in search of Wonderland, take the plunge into the enigmatic and alluring burrow that is Chronicle, but just make sure that before you ascend to the surface that there is still a world left to return to.

About The Author

Ross is a Screen Studies graduate from Manchester who can be found beaming with joy rather than wincing with discomfort at cinema's oddest, most experimental and depraved offerings.