Chronicle Feels Like An American Akira

Are you curious about the down-to-Earth "found footage" movie about a trio of teens who get superpowers? We caught a sneak peek at some Chronicle footage, hosted by the director, and we liked what we saw. We also got a chance to talk to the film-maker, Josh Trank.

Will Chronicle save the found footage genre? Maybe. Spoilers ahead...

Who is Josh Trank?


Chronicle is Josh Trank's directorial debut, but he's been making geeky Star Wars short films for years. Back in 2007 Trank released the short film at left, entitled "Stabbing at Leia's 22nd Birthday." It's basically what would happen if the Empire ruled over our modern day world.

Not only is this short film full of nerdy goodness, it also demonstrates two things we learned about Trank as a filmmaker. He has an excellent ear for capturing teen vernacular — without going full blown Clueless and making up his own dictionary of imaginary teen talk. And he's got a dark, troubled mind. We like that.

Chronicle Feels Like An American Akira

Akira with a touch of Big Fan:

Last week, we showed you a brand new clip and trailer for Chronicle (and there's plenty more below.) And one thing many of you noted was how similar the car-crunching character Andrew is to Akira's Tetsuo. We saw it too, especially in the brief moment in the trailer when he's seemingly pushing away a crowd of cops with his brain powers.

The nod was most likely intentional — Trank named Akira as one of his favorite movies, and an influence on this Chronicle. Also, it probably should be noted that the actor playing Andrew is actually up for the part of Tetsuo in the American Akira.

There was another movie that Trank touched on that Chronicle seems to be channeling — Big Fan (a film Trank worked on with Rob Siegel, starring Patton Oswalt). After confiding in Trank that we were huge fans of the big bathroom climax, the director told us that he had actually directed the Big Fan stand off. And if you've seen the flick it's just this brilliant slow burn of a fan losing his mind. Character Andrew also appeared to be channeling a lot of the rage and secret shame Oswalt carried around with him in Big Fan. A very good thing.

Upgraded Found Footage

A lot of people are groaning at the idea of yet another found footage film — but thankfully, Trank has upgraded the usual FF staples like excessive shaky cam. One of the first things the director started out by saying was that we all live in the modern world. And I'm sure (teenagers or otherwise) we all have a least one friend who knows how to hold a camera steady. So yes, this movie will not be reliving the gut-turning camera angles of Cloverfield or Blair Witch. People who own fairly expensive camera equipment and are tech nerds usually know how to operate them. Plus there's a whole heap of technological developments like the internal stabilizer that have greatly improved personal filming.

That doesn't mean Trank doesn't have his own twist on the Found Footage model. As time goes by Andrew (who is the person filming most of the movie) starts using his telekinesis to record. Which means he can remove himself from behind the camera with his superpowers.

Chronicle Feels Like An American Akira

Teenage People Are The Worst:

Don't deny it. I was a horrible person during my teen days. And even today, I live in constant fear of the loud pack of teenagers who come into my deli clamoring about their Selena Gomez, shrieking into their gadgets, and throwing bags of chips at each other for fun. For fun. FOR FUN. It's like the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park. Thankfully, Chronicle doesn't shy away from the terrifying complexities that come with being a teenager — and then adding superpowers.

Sometimes they're silly horny mounds of lunch meat who use their superpowers to lift up girls' skirts Zapped style. Other times, they rip the legs off a spider with their brain. The Andrew character seems to wallow in the evil we all had to sweep under the bed the day your mom caught you seeing if fresh water fish can survive in salt water. He feels complicated, stepped on, pissed off and absolutely full of vitriol for his good looking cousin. As Trank explained about the two boys' relationship:

"The movie opens up with the first time [Andrew] has ever turned on this camera. He got his camera, originally, to document what's going on in his home. His mom is suffering from a terminal illness, and his dad has been an alcoholic for many years, and it's been getting worse and worse. He originally starts filming for that purpose, and then it slowly turns into something else... They have that relationship where Andrew... He's — I hate to use the term — a loner. He doesn't like to be very social, and his cousin is the polar opposite. He's very relaxed, calm, and confident. Matt both loves him as a cousin and is annoyed with him at the same time. He's always obligated to drive him around and do things with him. There's a lot of depth and complexity to that relationship we show in the movie, which is central to everything that unfolds."

That being said, Chronicle also makes the case that perhaps, deep inside, we're all monsters. Trank explained that his inspiration behind the flick were his own childhood daydreams of gaining the power of telekinesis, which always ended in something bleak.

"As far as the modern teenage experience, this movie plays wish fulfillment without any cynicism attached to it. We have these scenes with our main characters out there having fun and doing things, they're doing it without any shame. It's not age-based or generational. If these kids were in their 20s, I think they'd be doing the same thing they're doing here. I wanted to shoot all of these scenes with these actors and keep everyone in the present and in the moment, without doing filmmaker techniques where you overtly foreshadow or try to imply things about the story or theme and just let this play out naturally. When they're having fun and flying, we're up there with them, and when things go dark, they feel very dark because this is what it would be like."

Much, Much Darker Than We Expected:

As we mentioned before, here's the infamous clip of Andrew ripping a spider to bits with his brain. It has a quiet, mesmerizing aspect to it attached only to the truly demented. Later on in the screening Andrew appeared on screen seemingly covered in blood. And in another clip Andrew threw one man's truck off the road and was more than willing to leave him there to die. It's going to be fun stomping about in this character's mind.

Chronicle Feels Like An American Akira

Logic, Chronicle Has It!

When a boy tries to move a car with his brain too soon, his nose starts to bleed, profusely. And because he's a teenager he calls it his "face period." Later on when the fellas learn how to fly they have to put on their winter outerwear, because it's cold that high up. Good.

What Makes Us Nervous:

A handful of things — but not too much, thank goodness. Possible plot issues, for one. Granted the director was being very cloak and dagger about the origins behind his superhero story, what's in the hole, what's really wrong with Andrew (to a point) and how did it all escalate to this level? These are all pretty important questions that were guarded from the press, so the audience can remain spoiler free. Fair enough. As long as the answers are good, we don't mind waiting.

Still, we get nervous around stories that start off, "something alien fell to Earth and gave out superpowers," and for good reason.

And finally we're worried that found-footage fatigue might hinder a lot of folks from giving this movie a try.

WHAT WE SAW:

A Rave:

Andrew and his cousin Matt pull up to a barn rave. Andrew loathingly spits out, "Wow, look a Rave!" Within a few minutes out the car door Matt is already trying to dump Andrew. Eventually they both wind up talking to the same vlogger lady (the movie swaps footage from both the girl and Andrew). Matt tries to impress her by quoting Jung to which she responds, "Way to put an analytical spin on the barn party. That's Awesome." And Matt retorts, "You're awesome." [This was when Chronicle won our hearts]. Later, Andrew gets smacked around by some bully and ends up sitting in the dark outside of the party crying and wiping down his camera.

A Prank:

The next couple of clips can all be found inside this trailer where we learn that the power is like a muscle. And if they pull too hard it can snap. For example after Steve pushes a car across a parking lot and later his nose is bleeding. They also learn that they can fly, move immensely heavy objects, and form a barrier around their bodies, making them basically bullet proof (which you can see when Andrew tries to ram a fork in Matt's hand). But the best part is simply when they use their powers for silly things, like eating chips without any hands!

An Accident:

Cut to a rainy day with an aggressive truck driver. Andrew gets pissed and tries to shove the truck out of the way. Instead he launches the truck off the road and right into a lake. Steve and Matt jump in to save the driver, Andrew freaks out and demands that they leave and not call the police. He is aggressively out voted and chastised. Matt then makes "the rules." They can't use their powers in public, don't tell anyone and they can't use their powers on any living things. Andrew stands dejected to the side. And Andrew clearly ignores these rules by ripping apart a spider (see above clip).

A Robbery:

Next thing you know Andrew is levitating his camera and recording his own armed robbery. Dressed in a firefighter suit, Andrew robs a gas station in a panic, and accidentally blows up the station while doing so.

A Murder?

The very final scene we were shown. Matt is frantic and driving through the streets of Seattle while a girl in the passenger seat films (we assume it was the earlier introduced vlogger girl). While he drives it looks like a tornado is throwing debris and cars all around. A cop approaches Matt's window, and is immediately ripped away. "It's Andrew!" Matt shrieks. Next thing you know, Matt's car is levitating, then flying towards the Space Needle. The car is thrown on top of the landmark, while the girl and Matt scream. Andrew appears, hoverin gin the air. It looks like he's covered in blood (where's Steve!!!!!???) The windshield is ripped away, and Matt is sucked out. The car begins to fall backwards off the Space Needle, the girl screams. It's quite intense.

And that's all we saw. Basically, we're exceptionally excited. It looks like a solid super powered drama that delivers both blood and laughs. It's like Akira and Kick-Ass had a baby and then coughed blood all over it, or at least that's the vibe we're getting. Chronicle hits theaters on February 3rd.

Full disclosure: Fox paid for io9's travel and expenses at this press junket.