A found footage film, "Chronicle," is about a group of teenagers who inexplicably gain telekinetic powers from a source we won't disclose, but all you need to know is that it's a MacGuffin-like plot device, which almost has no bearing on the story (read: it really could been anything, it doesn't matter).
What "Chronicle" does best is side-step the notion of one-dimensional villains and heroes and asks the simple question: what might happen if teenagers were bestowed with super human powers and how would they behave and respond?
The answer is refreshingly modern (and simple). They would fuck around, abuse their power for their own gain (both in trivial and consequential ways) and essentially take their newfound abilities out for joyrides as often as possible (and yes, they try and impress chicks too, duh). Grounded in that relatable reality, "Chronicle" seems to dwarf the simple concerns of pictures like "Thor," "Green Lantern" and "Captain America" (and possibly "The Avengers," which appears as if it will follow the same boring premise -- heroes trying to save the world from destruction).
The bottom line is "Chronicle" gets more elements right then it does wrong. For one -- and you can bet your ass studios will be paying attention to this just as they did with the relatively inexpensive "District 9" -- Trank's film has thrilling action and aerial sequences and the film didn't cost $150 million. In fact it cost around $12 million, so if it is a hit, it could be very lucrative. Even if it's not a commercial smash, there's a reason Trank is rumored to be the first choice to reboot the "Fantastic Four" franchise: he's produced a picture that's been made for less than half the cost of those cornball films, and it's 10 times as interesting and inventive as either of them. And he's done it with his debut film, proving he can make a quality, engaging and entertaining genre film for a song -- and Hollywood loves that.
Like "Cloverfield," "District 9" or even "Monsters" demonstrated, a new, more thought-provoking and cost-effective playing field is merging in sci-fi/creature-based, super-powered genre films. Forced to be creative because the budget isn't exorbitant (like Spielberg was way back in the day with "Jaws") and by focusing on things like story and character rather than spectacle, "Chronicle" and films of its ilk tend to look less like scrappy newcomers, and more like seasoned veterans, that still contain an original voice that is loud and clear. With less at stake financially, and with that lowered risk a greater opportunity to play creative rather than worrying about four quadrant marketing, films like "Chronicle" will hopefully lead to a bridging of that gap in the studio system, where virtually every movie is subjected to do-or-die expectations.
But there is one caveat in all this: it's up to audiences to make that happen. Studios only respond where they see dollar signs, and if "Chronicle" fails to impress this weekend, this conversation is pretty much moot. So far, this scrappy, microbudget approach has largely been in the proven domain of horror films (though next month's comedy "Project X" will be another test of a lo-fi production with no stars). That said, if "Chronicle" can develop strong word of mouth and show legs over the next few weeks, you can be sure executives will be paying very close attention, and hopefully begin taking more chances on films that don't require a built-in brand and $100 million dollars to get made.