Chronicle is yet another movie I've never heard of until I saw a trailer for it a few weeks ago. It looked interesting enough as I'm a sucker for a “person gets super powers and starts going crazy” stories, so I bought it as the blu-ray is quite cheap. However, it turns out there's a Director's Cut version which is not the one I purchased, so this review is just for the theatrical edition.
This is the first “found footage” movie on this site, a genre which I am sick and tired of not because it's overdone, but because they almost never make sense from a realistic standpoint. No one would be able to capture most of the moments you see in the angles they get, and it constantly takes me out of the film. Not to mention issues like sound quality, battery life, memory limitations... yes, I overthink everything.
I suppose one could also point how most are woefully low budget and contain terrible writing, acting, directing, editing, and then there's the endings... oh Good God, the endings. You know it says a lot about the state of today's movies when found footage film the Blair Witch Project is now considered the Citizen Kane of the genre. But why am I ranting about horror found footage movies? We have a sci-fi one to watch! Let's see how this story fares, with A Ghoul Versus Chronicle.
We open the film with one of our leads, Seattle high school student Andrew, beginning his day. His life sucks. His dad is an abusive drunk, his mom is dying of cancer, he's constantly bullied at school, and he really doesn't have friends besides his cousin Matt. He has just bought a camera to record his life, specifically the abuse he receives at the hands of his dad... although he never goes to the authorities with it.
Matt invites him to a party, which doesn't go well as he gets in a confrontation with a guy at the party for filming the guy's girlfriend. Matt goes outside to cry, where he's found by Steve. Steve is the popular kid at school, doing double duty as star football player and class president. But in an unusual twist he's not a jerk, and wants Andrew to come with him as he and Matt have found something interesting out in the woods. It's a... hole with a very loud booming noise is coming out of it? They left a bumpin' party for THAT? Steve and Matt go down to investigate, Andrew reluctantly coming along. They find a very strange looking crystalline object in the cavern, which turns red when they approach it. Andrew's camera starts shorting out as the kids all develop nosebleeds. The crystal starts surging and the footage blacks out.
A few weeks later, Andrew films them with a new camera- wait, so he lost his last camera underground? Then how the hell did we see that footage from earlier then if the camera was destroyed? This is ALWAYS the problem with found footage movies, they make no sense when you stop to think about how the footage got assembled into one big movie or WHY it was done. The young men painfully throw baseballs at each other, Andrew able to stop his in midair as we learn they have now developed telekinetic powers from their exposure to the crystal. We see them try to return to the cave but the hole has been caved in and police have sealed off the area, which isn't suspicious at all. The boys must agree with me, as they never follow up on this.
Over time, their powers grow and they gain greater control over them. This culminates in an incident where they're driving down the highway with an asshole truck behind them honking at them to speed up. Andrew uses his powers to knock the truck off the road and into a lake in what is probably the greatest scene in movie history... if you're a road rage-o-holic like me. Matt and Steve save the truck driver, very upset at Andrew who doesn't seem that concerned at all. I know I'm supposed to take their side on it because what Andrew did was wrong, but I bet that guy obeys speed limits from now on!
Matt decides they need to establish some rules about this whole power thing. They are:
1. No using it on living things.
2. No using it when angry
3. No using it when anyone else is around.
And since this is a movie with rules, everyone follows them to the letter and they live happily ever after.
Cue the credits.
Wait, this is still going?
Later on, Steve has now learned how to fly and teaches the others how to do so. We get some amazing flight sequences including an SWEET one where they play football in the clouds. Horror Found Footage Filmmakers are hopefully taking notes as to how having a bit of a budget can actually do some amazing things for your movie.
The fun is brought to a screeching halt as a jetliner flies by and hits Steve and sends him crashing to the ground, but Andrew is able to save him before he hits. Later, as they stay the night at Steve's, Andrew declares that was the greatest day of his life. They all agree. Steve and Andrew enter the school magic show, Andrew bringing down the house thanks to his powers. This makes Andrew the man of the hour at a house party that night, which either means this is the world's most boring high school or Hollywood has been lying to us about the popularity levels of magicians amongst teenager. Andrew catches the attention of a pink-haired girl named Monica, who, um, looks about as much as a high school student as the old lady in Not Another Teen Movie.
They go upstairs to have sex after drinking a lot, but Andrew ends up vomiting on her before they can do so. This begins a very bad chain of events for Andrew, which doesn't make a lot of sense because he never really got that cocky with his powers to deserve comeuppance. Everyone at school makes fun of him and his dad steps up his abuse regiment as his mother's health gets worse. We catch up with Andrew hiding up in the clouds during a lightning storm, where he works on the fine art of dark brooding. Steve is somehow able to find him, as it's inferred the teens share a psychic bond of some sort. Steve just wants to help but Andrew screams at him to leave him alone. The camera footage here gets incomprehensible as I believe Andrew lashes out and causes lightning to strike and kill Steve, but I really can't be sure. Long story short, the Black Guy Dies First.
At Steve's funeral, Matt tells Andrew that he knows he had something to do with Steve's death which is confirmed later when we see Andrew alone at Steve's gravestone tearfully apologizing. Back at school, Andrew is still being mocked by everyone for the vomit incident. He lashes out, pulling the teeth out of one of the bullies making fun of him. We join him in the bathroom analyzing his technique of yanking the teeth out. Yeah, I think it's safe to say he's crossed that pesky sanity line at this point. Just to hammer that home we get a scene of him talking to his camera about how he's an “apex predator” and the next step of evolution. Well, this is about to get interesting.
In Andrew's room, Matt confronts him over the improvisational dentistry he performed earlier that day. Matt ends up trying to punch him, but Andrew defends himself with his powers. But just to show that Andrew still has a few strings of his humanity left, we find him trying to get money to buy his mother's medicine as she's the only person in the world he cares about. He goes about this in probably not the most efficient way by deciding to go mugging people.
He dons an impromptu super villain costume made out of his dad's old firefighting gear (awesomely set to David Bowie's “Ziggy Stardust”) and shakes down some thugs in his neighbourhood, but they don't have enough money. He next targets a convenience store, but it goes horribly awry as he ends up accidentally blowing up a propane tank and setting himself on fire. He's partially saved by the firefighter gear but still ends up in the hospital pretty badly burnt. Via hospital security footage, we see Andrew's dad arrive at the hospital where Andrew is under police custody. He appears to be unconscious, as his dad reveals his mother died while he was out looking for him. He starts screaming at Andrew, who wakes up and makes the wall explode.
At a birthday party for his little brother, Matt's psychic link to Andrew is activated as his nose starts bleeding. On the TV they see a “bomb” has gone off at the hospital, Matt knowing this is Andrew. He and his girlfriend Casey drive off to find Andrew. Back at the hospital Andrew flies out of the smoking crater that was his room, holding his dad. He drops him, Matt flying up to save him. Matt and Casey get back in their car, but Andrew levitates it into the air.
We're treated to an amazing shot of the Seattle Space Needle as Andrew lands the car atop it. He yanks Matt out of the car and lets it go, sending Casey to her death. Matt is able to rescue her and set her safely on the ground, flying off to confront Andrew. They wage an epic battle that is cut through numerous views of police helicopter footage and security camera footage, which looks INCREDIBLE. Even more importantly it looks real, not just a CGI video game like virtually every superhero movie Hollywood churns out these days.
In the end, Andrew has Matt knocked down while he starts having a massive power surge that is slowly destroying all the buildings around them. Matt is forced to levitate a spear from a statue from a nearby statue and use it to kill Andrew to finally stop him. This is probably the only part of the movie that really took me out of it, as the cameras are right in front of Andrew and Matt with no explanation whatsoever who could have been filming it. Minor nitpick, I know. Matt flies away before the cops can arrest him.
Our film ends in Tibet, where earlier in the film Andrew indicated he wanted to go. Matt sets up a camera, using it to apologize to Andrew. He knows he wasn't a bad person. Andrew vows to use his powers to help people from now on, as well as getting answers on what happened to them. He leaves the camera set up and flies away.
Cue the credits.
Wow, this was a NICE surprise. This was a very enjoyable movie, and SO well done. It's a fairly original take on the superhero origin story where we stay very grounded in reality instead of the usual “let's go fight crime!”. This is the new gold standard for Found Footage films are far as I'm concerned, as it defied every bad thing they usually do. It had a good story, the acting was average (but not terrible), and the directing and editing were SUPERB. The ending was even satisfying, going as far to set up a sequel in a way that didn't feel forced. I can easily recommend this film to anyone, no matter your tastes.
One last thing, the creators of this film, John Trank and Max Landis, were working on a sequel but sadly were fired off the project altogether. Which is a shame, I really would have liked to see how they followed this one up as I was really interested in what the crystalline object was and what the authorities knew about it.