Chronicle is not a superhero movie – even though it has kids who gain superpowers. Instead, it’s a chronicle of the way kids might really behave if they gained such abilities – and it’s both delightful and terrifying.
What would a high school kid do if he suddenly got superpowers? Would he put on a crazy costume and fight crime? Of course not!
While he might want to keep his abilities secret, he’d probably figure out a way to get a look under the hot girls’ skirts, or become the life of the party. He might even become the king of the practical joke.
That’s what happens in Chronicle.
The movie opens with Andrew [Dane DeHaan] beginning a video diary with his new video camera – and stabling that his father [Michael Kelly] is a mean drunk and his mother is dying. His only friend is his cousin, Matt [Alex Russell] – who spends time with him in spite of Andrew’s geeky, outcast status at school.
It’s Matt who persuades Andrew to go to a party in an abandoned factory, where their high school’s most popular kid, Steve [Michael B. Jordan], soon persuades him to bring his camera and check out this perfectly round hole he and Matt have found – leading to an encounter with a crystalline something underground. The next thing you know, they’ve acquired the ability to move things with their minds – telekinesis, Steve learns.
At first, they can’t do much – stop a baseball in mid-air, toss a few rocks into a pond – but the more they use them, the greater the abilities become. There are pranks, playful at first – making a leaf blower blow a trio of hot girls’ skirts up – but quickly moving into the cruel range, prompting Matt to say that they need to adhere to some rules.
Unfortunately, as their abilities grow, Andrew is provoked by his father and other pressures and slowly begins to lose it – leading up to cataclysmic consequences.
Chronicles was written by Max Landis [son of famed director John Landis], from a story he came with in tandem with the film’s director, Josh Trank. Trank takes the ‘found footage’ format that has gone from intriguing novelty to just another way to make a movie, and gives it new life by introducing a second character with a camera – video blogger Casey [Ashley Hinshaw] – to give an outside perspective for some effective moments, and by having Andrew become a strong multi-tasker who floats his camera off to one side in a way that creates steadicam shots.
The special effects are down and dirty/raw and give the film the kind of edge you expect in a found footage film, but without believable kids, they wouldn’t mean much. Russell, Jordan and, especially DeHaan are so believable as the trio of unlikely friends, that it is easy to accept everything else that happens.
Trank makes the most of his $15 million budget. By developing his characters carefully – and realistically, for this kind of a film – and gradually building the effects work until the over-the-top, but strangely appropriate final act, he holds the audience’s attention and keeps us on the edge of our seats.
It’s almost too bad that these guys have never heard that ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ but that wouldn’t have made for nearly as interesting a film.
Final Grade: A-