Just when we thought the whole found-footage subgenre of movies was starting to feel unimaginative and offer few surprises, something the likes of 'Chronicle' comes along. Director Josh Trank, making his feature-length debut, doesn't go so far as to reinvent the wheel, or anything even coming close to that. The movie still plays to the conventions of its genre, with lots of first-person perspectives and a shaky-cam feel. Instead, the modestly-budgeted sci-fi fantasy takes advantage of the style and technique to draw us closer into the mind of a troubled kid redefining himself as his telekinetic powers grow. It's the brilliant, slow evolution of a superhero villain, intelligently showing how one goes from shy and submissive to developing a god complex.
From Max Landis, the son of John Landis and also making his silver-screen debut, the story centers around Andrew (Dane DeHaan), whose timidity is near detrimental to his health and has already taken his social abilities as a casualty. At the start of the movie, the kid decides to record his life as a way of documenting the abuse of his alcoholic father (Michael Kelly). As if acting the extreme loner and wearing almost all black weren't enough to make him a shoe-in to win the school's "Most Likely to Become a Serial Killer" award, he now walks around the campus with a camera. The creepy factor is brought to his attention on a few occasions, the funniest being a cheerleader asking politely not to record the squad practice in their short skirts, but nothing deters Andrew from chronicling his otherwise unhappy life.
And here's where we come across a couple of the movie's minor hurdles, which admittedly are actually negligible nitpicks when the rest of the narrative unfolds so entertainingly. It's not made convincingly clear why Andrew feels the need to film his life when it's abundantly obvious what we'll see is hugely depressing, recording practically nothing but his wretched misery. As far as I can recall, no one even mentions YouTube or calls the project some sort of video diary. I suppose in this day and age, when kids seem to lack self-restraint and recording devices are everywhere, we're supposed to take Andrew's obsession as a given. Like I said, it's a trivial nitpick, one of those plot devices so necessary that without it, we wouldn't have such a great movie like 'Chronicle.' Part of the challenge and fun is making up excuses for always having a camera nearby.
Then there's Andrew's cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), the popular senior who tries his best to bring Andrew out of his shell although he goes about it the wrong way. He also has a strange fancy for quoting Carl Jung and Arthur Schopenhauer as if he actually understands what he's saying, but it comes off as unrealistic and somewhat of a desperate attempt to make the movie more profound than it really is. Yet, after the boys discover the glowing blue orb which gives them their telekinetic abilities, Matt suddenly can't philosophize about their abnormal powers. It's also a bit unrealistic how Matt's friend, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), shows up out of the blue. Again, these are perceived flaws within the plot which are easily ignored and even forgiven since the rest of the movie is so darn good.
What ultimately works is the superhero origins story turned into an engaging drama about an abused and troubled teen, essentially creating a worthwhile insight into the warped mind of a superhero villain. It's a terrifically original use of the found-footage subgenre, taking it away from the horror genre and turning it into a captivating sci-fi fantasy. The movie has already garnered the director a great deal of attention — and deservedly so. He's now rumored for a 'Fantastic Four' reboot, a 'Spider-Man' spinoff in 'Venom' and signed to direct Christian Gossett's 'The Red Star' adaptation. Landis is also attached to a sequel for this film. Based on what we see in 'Chronicle,' I'm sure the young filmmakers will use their newfound powers for good and not evil.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Chronicle' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack dubbed the "Director's Cut: The Lost Footage Edition." Sitting on opposing panels inside a blue eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover, the first is a Region A locked, BD50 disc while the second is a DVD-9 with a digital copy included. After a series of skippable trailers, viewers are asked to choose between the theatrical version and the director's cut, which is also accessible in the "Extras" section of the main menu with full-motion clips and music. The difference between the two is approximately six minutes of added dialogue.
Considering the specific look the filmmakers wanted to achieve in 'Chronicle,' one can't reasonable expect too much from the picture quality. Surprisingly, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is actually quite good with several scenes nearing demo material.
Once Andrew gets his new camera, the 1.85:1 picture frame displays razor-sharp definition of clothing and hair. Facial complexions appear healthy with lifelike skin textures, revealing the smallest blemishes on the faces of the young cast. It's not always perfect as a few scenes do get a bit blurry, and that's not counting the secure camera footage, but for a large part of the runtime, it's very distinct with spot-on contrast and brilliant whites. On the other hand, the presentation is every bit as if recorded on handheld HD camcorders despite being shot on professional grade cameras, so the squeaky-clean digital look is deliberate but not all that attractive and far from cinematic. There's also some mosquito noise present in several sequences, especially towards the end.
Nonetheless, the video is in first-rate condition with strong black levels and excellent visibility of the shadow details. Colors are natural and boldly rendered with primaries benefiting the most, making this a great-looking debut for a modestly-budgeted sci-fi fantasy.
In the audio department, 'Chronicle' puts on an even better show, particularly in the last few minutes during the final showdown.
The most impressive aspect of the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is the bass, which can be very authoritative and wall-rattling in many parts of the film. Several of the action sequences come with a highly-responsive punch that nicely surprises, but the low-end often digs really deep when the boys are causing mayhem. This is accompanied by some wonderfully understated rear activity that surrounds the listener without seeming overwhelming or aggressive. Pans and directionality are smooth and convincing, especially in the big fight sequence that feels like being in the middle of a war zone.
The front speakers generate a wide and expansive soundstage with well-prioritized vocals and flawless channel separation. Off-screen effects are persuasive with a sharply-defined dynamic range that delivers terrific clarity during the pandemonium, providing a highly-enjoyable lossless mix.
Many of the special features also appear on the day-and-date release of the DVD.
'Chronicle' is a sci-fi fantasy with a terrifically engaging superhero origins drama at its core, and it makes for a highly-entertaining feature-length debut for director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis. Although it keeps to the conventions of the found footage subgenre, the film manages to renew interest and takes the style in a worthwhile direction. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video and a near reference quality audio presentation. Some of the supplements are also found on the DVD release, but this high-def edition offers enough exclusive material to make it a recommended purchase for fans.