Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Watcher - Chronicle

Chronicle is the stunning debut film from director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis. Centred around a trio of Seattle teenagers, the film documents their experiences as they develop telekinetic powers and events quickly spiral out of control.

The film is seen largely through the eyes of unpopular Andrew (Dane DeHaan), who struggles with an abusive father and dying mother and decides to document his experiences with an ancient video camera. Although at first the ‘found footage’ format threatens to derail the film as the usual questions and complaints about practicality and viewing comfort begin to arise, the plot kicks into high gear almost as soon as Andrew attends a party with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and they befriend the popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan).

Following a terrifying encounter with a mysterious underground object, the friends develop telekinetic powers and begin to document their discoveries with a genuine youthful exuberance in a series of pranks and dares. Rather than simply descend into ‘Jackass’ with superpowers, the middle act serves not only to deliver some genuine laughs, but also begins to transcend the limitations of the format as Andrew learns to control the camera with his mind and their powers quickly develop beyond their wildest imaginings. In a sequence that restores some of the thrills lost through over familiarity with the superhero genre, the trio take to the skies and discover the thrills and dangers of flight.

Another surprise is the care and attention the screenplay gives to developing the characters and relationships which grow organically through the course of events, meaning that the stakes are given a gut wrenching emotional edge when events eventually spiral beyond the teens’ control. Most touching is the friendship between outcast Andrew and popular jock Steve, who develop an almost brotherly bond until hubris drives the pair apart and Matt is left to watch horrified from the sidelines.
Andrew’s fall from grace is not entirely unexpected given the emotional turmoil we see the character go through, but it is all the more compelling, particularly as the film slowly introduces the tropes of the superhero genre in a fresh and original way, all of which culminate in the most brutal and visceral of superhero smackdowns yet committed to screen. It is here that the found footage format transcends its limitations, as Andrew’s unconscious sense of vanity and telekinesis lead to some inventive and breathtaking camera work.

Chronicle is not a perfect film. The budgetary limitations are clear in one or two places, particularly in some rather perfunctory CGI, and the found footage format might be off putting at first. It is perhaps testament to the sheer quality of the script and surprising joi de vivre that these weaknesses are forgivable however and fans of the superhero and science fiction genres should leave with a palpable sense of excitement, and a reinvigorated sense of childish wonder not experienced for a long long time.

Chronicle has made an early play for best superhero film of the year, and ironically, you should definitely catch this one on the big screen rather than wait for the ‘video’.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe squeezed Eve Myles at the SFX Weekender!

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