Saturday, 4 February 2012

'Chronicle' review:

When high schooler Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider it doesn't take long for him to use his newly developed super powers to recover the purses of old ladies and foil bank robberies. "With great power comes great responsibility" is the famous mantra. Well somebody should have told the kids in 'Chronicle', a film in which three teenagers develop telekinetic abilities after being exposed to a nosebleed-inducing, glowing rock in a mysterious cave.

But if Spider-Man was born into the idealistic 60s, these kids are definitely from our more cynical present - in that they just piss around aimlessly, content to serve no grand purpose. In the fun first half of the movie, they pull immature pranks on passersby, win a high school talent show and play American football in the troposphere. It's the first super powers movie I've seen in which the kids on-screen do what real kids would actually do: they film themselves doing the sort of stuff the 'Jackass' crew could only dream of and laughing constantly. If 'Kick Ass' was the story of a guy whose vigilante fantasy was limited by his lack of special abilities, then 'Chronicle' is the reverse.

That's already a sound premise but the really inspired part is the decision to frame the film as "found-footage" - with most of it captured through handheld video cameras. A closer cousin to 'Cloverfield' than 'The Blair Witch Project' or 'Paranormal Activity', 'Chronicle' isn't using the style as a neat way to make a movie on the cheap: the special effects are better than average, not least because by the time things really kick off (alas, the childish hijinks can't last forever) we've been grounded in a very tangible, recognisable world.

The film is, for the most part, framed as the video diary of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a meek guy who decides to film his day to day life, ostensibly to deter his abusive, drunken father. Director Josh Trank, working from a Max Landis (son of John) script, uses the conceit imaginatively, having Andrew levitate his camera, allowing for a greater range of shots than you'd usually expect, a trick which helps to keep the gimmick from becoming irritating or hindering the action (characters bound to video cameras can't exactly fight).

Over its brisk 83 minutes, 'Chronicle' is also buoyed by its deeper-than-expected central character study, as Andrew's home life (his mum is dying from cancer) and his miserable time at school, as a bullied social outcast, combine to give him exactly the sought of pent-up rage you don't want in a teenager suddenly given unprecedented power over his environment. This is another way in which the style of filmmaking ehances the story: as the obsession with filming events deepens, Andrew's feeling of detachment from the world seems to become greater, diminishing his already fragile sense of empathy with grave consequences for the people of Seattle.

'Chronicle' is out now in the UK, rated '12A' by the BBFC.

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