The premise for Chronicle sounds either terrifically cool or terrifically bad—three teenage boys discover “something” in the deep depths of the earth that equips them with superpowers to move objects and fly. The boys—Andrew, Matt and Steve—document and “chronicle” their exploits with Andrew’s handheld camera. They push and play with their powers, starting innocently enough by moving LEGOs with their minds but later escalating to vehicles and some very dangerous “games.”
The “found footage” genre is overplayed, and combined with the incredulous story line, many people feel skeptical about this film. And while it is a “found footage” movie, it also kind of isn’t. I never really believed it. The shots are definitely too steady, and after a while, Andrew learns to levitate the camera so perfectly that it solves the problem of someone having to hold the camera at all. Any other point-of-view is shown through the camera of Matt’s crush, Casey. She’s using it for her blog. Convenient, huh?
Having to suspend belief for it being real “found footage” was not a problem for me though. Thankfully the movie’s merit doesn’t rest on that gimmick. The fun and freshness of Chronicle comes from Andrew, Matt and Steve, or rather, the unknown young actors Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan. Watching their pranks throughout the first half of the movie, you can’t help but think, “Yep, that’s exactly how I imagined 17-year-old boys with superpowers would act.”
Then you wonder why you never thought about something so awesome in the first place.
Andrew’s character is fleshed out most: He buys the camera in the beginning to record the abuse his drunken father seems to enjoy doling out to him. His mother is dying slowly and very painfully. He doesn’t have friends besides his cousin, Matt, and he can’t catch a break from bullies at school and in his neighborhood. The popular, charismatic Steve probably wouldn’t be friends with him unless they’d discovered their powers together, or so Andrew says during an argument with Steve 30,000 feet in the air. During a lightning storm. Yes, Chronicle takes teen angst somewhere completely new.
Matt is the most stable force of the three, popular but not too popular, weakest in his powers (he’s last to get down the flying technique) but also the most responsible. He quotes Jung and Plato, but it seems very put-on; something he can impress people with besides his dimples.
The first half is so enjoyable to watch that it’s kind of disappointing to see everything go dark and deep in the latter half. Andrew’s problems with his home life and own self-image make him reckless with his powers, disregarding the effects on others. After one of his angry outbursts does tragic damage, his thinking twists into very dark places. He begins to refer to himself as an “apex predator,” and other humans are just victims of evolution and natural selection.
The story gets messy after this and spirals down into a crazy, things-blowing-up-cops-everywhere-shootout that’s uninspiring ... but hey, it was a cool idea while it lasted. There is much potential to be mined in all these young first-timers: not only the actors but also director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis. Miraculously, even the effects weren’t cheesy. (OK, maybe a little, but I honestly expected much worse, unrealistic images.)
Luckily, Trank and Landis knew the heart of the story, even if they lost it later: boys will be boys. Especially ones with telekinesis. They will still try to flirt with girls, impress their friends by doing stupid stunts and play football.
Well, except they play their football game in the sky with planes flying by. Small difference.