Rental Pick: CHRONICLE (2012)

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a big fan of the found-footage genre, which is often used in horror or sci-fi movies. So when this one comes around, I was only mildly interested in seeing it. But the good reviews piqued my interest and y’know what, going out of one’s comfort zone can be quite rewarding :)

The story is pretty straightforward, three Seattleites high school friends somehow gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery one night. It’s not fully explained how they gain these powers, but that’s beside the point. Soon, the three boys bonded over their newly-found powers, and the scenes of them discovering the powers are quite fun to watch. You sort of live vicariously through these characters, especially in the exhilarating flying sequences. Now who hasn’t wished they could fly at some point of their lives? What started out as whimsical and fun soon takes a sinister turn, however. Never has the saying ‘it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye’ been more aptly applied here.

The found-footage film-making style lends itself well to the story, as one of the main characters, Andrew, is a loner kid who seems to only communicate using his handy-cam. He’s the quintessential troubled boy who lives with his cancer-stricken mother and a disillusioned, abusive former-firefighter father. As if life at home isn’t hard enough, he’s also bullied at school. After seeing the documentary Bully, these bullying scenes are even more heartbreaking and you truly feel for this kid. His two friends however, Matt (who’s actually Andrew’s cousin) and Steve, the popular guy who’s running for school president, live seemingly problem-free lives.

So it’s no surprise that this incredible discovery affects Andrew the most. On the way home from school one day, Andrew uses his power that sends someone in the hospital. Surely anyone who’s been tailgated or harassed by a careless driver can relate to that scene, but the incident prompts Matt and Steve to enforce a ‘rule’ that they should not to use the powers whilst they’re angry or for evil purposes. For Steve and Matt, the powers are just something cool to have, a new talent they can use for fun, such as freaking people out at a toy store using their telekinetic powers.

But for Andrew, the power feeds his growing anger and resentment, and it quickly overtakes him. It doesn’t help matters that Andrew’s telekinetic abilities seems to be the strongest of the three, perhaps because he’s just naturally the most gifted out of them all, and it could be because he spends more time perfecting it. My husband likens his ability to X-Men‘s Jean Grey, who could be incredibly powerful when she puts her mind to it. Andrew also shares some similarities with another mutant with a dark past, Magneto, whose life is in turmoil following the death of his mother.

What I like about Chronicle is that the superhero theme ultimately speaks more about our humanity and moral conscience at the core. When something out of the ordinary happens to us, whether good or bad, we all have a choice in how we deal with them and those choices are what affects us and those around us, more so than the circumstance itself. The film’s sense of realism also makes the story and characters very relatable, after all these three boys are as ordinary as they come.

The script did a good job in getting us care about the characters and provides some depth that transcends beyond the gimmicks of its precarious concept. The special effects is pretty good considering its paltry $12 mil-budget, it’s nothing spectacular but does its job and serves the story well.

I’m also impressed with the performances of the relatively unknown young actors. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan have good chemistry together, and all of them have only done mostly TV projects and various small projects. DeHaan, who looks so much like a young Leonardo DiCaprio (circa This Boys Life), has the most challenging role out of the three and he’s more than up for the task.

Now, I’m not saying this is a perfect movie of course, there are quite a few plot holes about the extend of their powers and all that, not to mention the clichéd stereotypes on some of the characters. There are also some of the absurd choices some of the characters did that aggravate me, but not to the point that derail the whole movie.

The quibbles I did hear from some reviewers are that the ending seems extreme and overblown. It’s a warranted sentiment though I actually don’t mind them as the conflict has been hinted more than once. Plus, Andrew’s musings about being an ‘apex predator’ that shouldn’t feel sorry for crushing its inferior prey would inevitably lead to him doing some horrible things. I do feel that the finale is quite violent for being PG-13, that battle scenes both on the air and on the ground around the Space Needle are fierce and brutal. It’s heartbreaking to see what the powers cost each of these kids and what happens when certain powers falls into the wrong hands.

Final Thoughts: Chronicle is a pleasant surprise for me. It’s a worthy sci-fi fantasy that’s grounded in realism and has more emotional weight than meets the eye. It’s a pretty impressive achievement from director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis in their feature film debut.

4 out of 5 reels


Somehow I get a feeling this will be another polarizing movie, so if you’ve seen this, I’d love to hear what you think. If you haven’t, are you willing to give this a go?

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65 thoughts on “Rental Pick: CHRONICLE (2012)

    • Glad to hear. Hope you enjoy Michael. You have teenage kids right? Then this will resonate with you, though you are obviously a much nicer dad than this Andrew character has.

  1. Yeah I liked it a lot! Much better than many found footage movies! The climax was extremely inventive in the way it was shot but some of the bits with the ‘oh I’m just recording myself answering the door’ type stuff is ridiculous. The characters could have been written a bit better and the performances weren’t flawless but overall a very impressive debut from Trank and Landis!

    • Glad you like this too, Pete. Yeah, the scenes of Andrew always filming gets a bit tiresome, but I guess it shows just how obsessed and out of touch with the outside world he really is. I wasn’t expecting a *flawless* acting here given the inexperience of the actors, so I think they did a good job overall.

  2. Have yet to see this movie (come on Netflix…) but I’ve heard good things from everyone I talked to. Nice to hear there is some emotional substance to it. Given the premise, it could easily be all about the action and sci-fi.

    • Let me know what you think Castor. I think I read a guest review on AM that gives this one a B. I like the emotional aspect between the characters, it doesn’t seem frivolous to me.

  3. The found footage format is definitely overused, but is acceptable if the story requires it. For instance, I would have liked to have seen a normal telling of “Troll Hunter” (hopefully that’s what the Chris Columbus remake will do). Someone should do a found footage rom-com.

  4. As opposed to many others I’m not tired of the found footage format and in this movie it was used in a creative and fun way that made sense. I really loved it. It’s not a huge budget movie but they really did make good use of whatever they had. A great debut!

    • Hi Jessica! Well after seeing this, I’m willing to give a bit more found-footage movies a try. As long as there’s a good story and it’s not just a *gimmick,* I’m fine with it. Yes, I think Trank/Landis should have a bright career ahead of them with the success of this one.

  5. I just watched this one Sunday and liked it more than I expected. I really like the way it slowly builds the tension as their powers grow and Andrew starts losing control. The final act is crazy, but it works better than many action scenes because they’ve built up the characters through the first hour. Good stuff.

    • Yeah, I’m glad I chose this one instead of The Grey. I think this one is more emotionally satisfying. I feel the same way, Dan. I don’t mind the explosive finale as Andrew keeps getting out of control! That scene with the spider gives me the chills, I kept thinking this kid has such a violent streak in him.

  6. I really dislike the found footage genre as well. I think a buddy of mine showed me that J.J. Abrams movie (Cloverfield) and I didn’t care for it. I remember this getting great reviews, so I might Redbox it based on your recommendation.

  7. I found it a tad depressing but I thought Andrew was well written. He tried and the others had never been treated the way he had, they just couldn’t understand him. In a way it’s stereotypical and in another it totally isn’t, it really intrigued me. Cheers!

    • I can see how this could be somewhat depressing depending on your mood. I didn’t feel that way though, though I do feel for Andrew. Poor kid. At times I just want to slap his dad, I mean why even have a kid if you’re going to treat him like that?! I think Andrew became who he was largely because of how his dad treated him.

  8. Ever since I saw The Blair Witch Project, I cannot stand these “found footage” type of movies. I may give this one a rent someday since it’s action oriented instead of the usual horror crap that’s been coming out lately.

    • Definitely not the usual horror crap. Let me know what you think Ted, it kind of reminds me of Unbreakable a bit in that it gives a fresh spin to the superhero story.

  9. I did enjoy this film and liked the added sense of reality via the found footage use. I also appreciated the fact that it didn’t go the way most super heropower films go: get the power, experiment, then rush out to save innocents and the world from evil doers.

    They were just kids doing what we’d expect teenagers to do in their situation. Glad you gave this one a chance!

    • You got it T! Yeah, kids doing what we’d expect kids to do. Towards the end Matt does feel the need to help others, kind of like following Spidey’s uncle’s wisdom “with great powers comes great responsibility” but it doesn’t seem put on as Matt has always been a nice guy from the start.

  10. I really didn’t care for “Chronicle” at all. I checked it out in the theater and it just wasn’t what I hoped for.

    First the “found footage”. I can tell it worked for some but for me, I couldn’t get over the “we’ve seen this approach so many times before” feeling. Plus, it gets lost during the big loud final action sequence. It begins randomly shifting from “found footage” camera shots to traditional action shots. Kinda weird.

    Second, I found it amazingly predictable. It’s obvious early on where these powers are taking these kids, especially one of them. As the story unfolded, not one plot direction surprised me.

    Third, I thought the three main characters felt like stereotypical rehashes of other teens we’ve seen so many times before. They just didn’t appeal to me.

    BUT, as always Ruth, you lay out a great defense in your review. A wonderful read (which I probably enjoyed more than the movie) :)

    • Hi Keith! I really appreciate your honesty man. Hey I kind of expect that as much as I enjoyed it, someone probably hated it, ahah. I didn’t find it as predictable as you, though the stereotypes are very obvious, that’s one of my quibbles as well. Thanks for reading and complimenting, hey we can’t always agree but we can always be civil about it :D

      • Oh sure. I mean it’s all about preference. There’s no right or wrong. Movies effect different people different ways. It’s just fun talking about how movies effect us either positively or negatively.

        That said, I didn’t really “hate” the movie. It was just one that didn’t work for me. But I think I’m clearly in the minority. Most I’ve talked to had pretty favorable reactions to it.

        • Hi Keith, I don’t always like what most bloggers love either, but it’s still interesting to get people’s point of view. Cheers :)

  11. Really enjoyed this. Can’t confirm this but I hear the director, Josh Trank is in line to direct a reboot of The Fantastic Four. The screen writer made a very interesting short film/documentary title “The Death And Return Of Superman”

    • Hi Asrap, oh yeah I think I heard that too. I’m not a big fan of Fantastic Four but I suppose w/ the right director it could be good. I should check out that doc, I mean I’m a big fan of Superman :D

  12. I thought this was a pretty good film, but the found footage aspect did irritate me a bit, especially the way it was handled in the final battle scene. Still, it’s probably one of the best of that gimmick. I think I gave it the same final score you did.

    • I’m probably the only one who have no quibble about the final scene. I thought it was thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time. Glad you still enjoyed it overall, Morgan.

  13. I’m really looking forward to seeing this one. It seems to be all the rage around here because I cannot find it at any of the nearby Redbox locations.

  14. Nice to see you enjoyed it. Saw this a while ago and it was a pleasant surprise. Really liked it how they worked the cameras into the story especially when they free it up. Really a nice and inventive way to be able to do what they want with them without it feeling weird.

    • Glad to hear you’re in my camp, Nostra. Yeah I thought it was inventive too, I wasn’t annoyed by it despite my dislike for handheld-style filmmaking.

    • Annoying cinema patrons definitely affect one’s enjoyment! I feel for you matey, I’d probably not love it as much as I did if it were the case.

  15. I remember enjoying this more than I thought I would. It starts out as a tale of boys being boys. I mean, really, that’s what teenage boys would do if they had super powers! It gets dark quick and I for one didn’t think the big climax was unnecessary. It was culminating to something big.

    One of the better found footage films in a long time.

    • Boys being boys indeed, that part in the toy store was funny, so juvenile, ahah! Glad you like the finale, too, it’s bound to be extreme when powers happen to such a troubled kid like Andrew.

  16. I’ve heard a lot of talk about this and read quite a few reviews. I wouldn’t say I’m excited about seeing it but it definitely sounds better than I expected. I’m hoping for a pleasant surprise when I finally get around to watching the film.

  17. I too found this to be a surprise package – and I don’t mind the found footage style of film. I was prepared for a fairly low budget affair, but the way this film went right gangbusters caught me totally off guard! Loved it, and glad to see it get a good write up here, Ruth! nice work!

  18. :D Nice review, and as always, a healthy conversation afterwards. Love it.

    I agree with most of what you said, my one exception being the found footage. I realize it has to help keep the budget down somehow, but it was limiting here. They always had to find an excuse to have the camera on, and it didnt always work for me.

    Aside from that, yeah, this was certainly a pleasant surprise!

    • Hi Fogs, there were times where I feel that way too, but I was quite engrossed in the character/story that I let that slide. I think the idea is that the main character sees the world through a lens and that lens is often blurred because of what he went through, so in a way the style is consistent w/ the plot.

      • I guess. I think I had always just thought that if they had made it a more traditionally shot film, they could have done a better job with it, because the characters and action were all pretty good…

        • It could be a lot better, true. But again, this is the first feature film for both the director/writer so with that in mind, I think they did a good job. I’m impressed with the character development & emotional engagement, which gets a higher mark from me than if the movie had been perfectly-shot but leaves me empty, y’know what I mean?

  19. I like this movie since I read the first review back then…but haven’t seen it yet. Will do it soon :)

    I always like people with superpower who don’t wear tight suit ;)

    Great review Ruth. I didn’t expect you will give it 4 stars….now I am more eager to see it.

    • He..he.. yes, superheroes don’t always have to wear a cape :D As I said to Fogs, the fact that I really feel for the characters compelled me to give a high mark.

  20. I really liked how the group didn’t decide to become superheroes or anything like that; it’s a much too typical concept nowadays. This felt a little more realistic, especially with the Andrew character. The Magneto comparison was brilliant by the way!

    • Hi Aidy! Oh I have to thank my hubby for that, he’s the one who thought of Magneto right away and the similarities w/ the X-Men story. I do appreciate the strong sense of realism of this one, thanks.

  21. Glad that you liked it, Ruth! I agree that it showed humanity and choices when we have superpowers. But I did find the ending was too ‘emotional’ or radical. But it still a great sci-fi, and to mix it with found footage is a refreshing thing to see. Great review!

  22. Saw this a few months ago and, like you, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Haven’t seen a lot of movies that use found footage but I thought it was very well handled here and fit the story (which was certainly heavier, dramatically speaking, than what I thought it would be). However, I thought the ending derailed the movie. It was overblown and lazy. I agree with you that that kind of destruction was hinted at, but still felt it was way too much.

    • Hi Fernando! Yeah I figure some people would be bothered by the ending, though I’m not one of them. At least you appreciate the film overall. Thanks for the comment :D

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