Directed by Josh Trank
Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan
Runtime 84min. - Rated PG13
3.5 Stars (out of 4)
Yes, they all have superpowers. Yet they are not superheroes.
"Chronicle" is a found-footage film. That means its in the shaky style of "Cloverfield" and "The Blair Witch Project". The majority of footage is taken by a high-school outcast named Andrew (DeHaan) with a terminally ill mother and an abusive father. The camera is his way of observing life while distancing himself from the pain. Thankfully, he is a more competent cinematographer than his peers in the genre.
Andrew reluctantly takes his camera to a local party to which cousin his Matt (Russell) has invited him. Matt and his friend Steve (Jordan) are more popular than Andrew but they don't bully him like their peers. The party-goers find a large hole in a nearby field from which a mysterious sound emanates. After the others get back to the party, Andrew, Matt and Steve go down the hole and find a large glowing blue object of unknown origins. An event occurs in the hole but no one is quite sure what happened afterward. They return the next day to find the hole has been sealed off and the area has been secured by the government. That is all of the explanation we get for the origin of the object. In fact, the object's subplot completely dissapears from the movie once its purpose has been served. That's okay with me though. I'm down with enigmas.
After their underground encounter, the boys start noticing some bizarre changes. They now have the ability of telekinesis. At first they can only move small objects but after some practice they get strong enough to crush cars with their minds. Overexertion of those powers leads to nosebleeds, which seems to be the most common medical issue among those with telekinetic powers in movies. They eventually learn to fly, but that seems to be an extension of the aforementioned telekinesis.
The first hour of the film is a comedy. A good comedy. These three kids could have benefited from uncle Ben's advice because their power comes with no responsibility. They spend all of their time screwing with strangers. A woman in a store reaches for something on the shelf and ends up chasing her shopping cart around the aisles. A man browsing the magazines gets jerked around by the gum he is chewing. After some practice they even move cars to different parking spots. These are exactly the kind of things I'd expect out of high-schoolers with telekinesis. I found their shenanigans to be not only funny, but a refreshingly accurate portrayal of the teenage psyche.
Super-powered practical jokes are fun, but the movie had to take a darker turn. Andrew's abusive father and severely ill mother has left him in a fragile emotional state that is unsurprisingly the catalyst for the films climax. It begins with an accident. He means to nudge a tailgater so that they'll increase their following distance. Instead he knocks them off the road and into a lake. They manage to save the aggressive driver, but Andrew's taste of power is at odds with his since of remorse.
After his mother dies Andrew becomes increasingly volatile. This leads to a epic battle between he and his cousin Matt. It's a fight that made me nostalgic for "Superman 2". There are vehicles used as weapons and buildings being destroyed. General Zod would have been proud. The source of footage in this scene is cut between security cameras, a news helicopter and a few other sources. At times, the director seems to forget what genre he is working in, because traditional cinematography comes into play. It is possible that I just couldn't keep track of what video source was being portrayed.
The filmmakers had a neat trick for dealing with shaky camera work. Andrew uses his mental abilities to control the camera, allowing him to be in front of and behind the camera at the same time. The movie states that Andrew is more adept than the others at using subtle movements. The filmmakers use this as excuse for employing traditional equipment like dollies, tripods, cranes and cables. It's a useful gimmick that allows the frenzied approach of shaky-cam to be merged seamlessly with other techniques.
This is a unique film that manages to be fun throughout. This isn't about superheroes, but rather about kids who get a lot more power than they can handle. The fun parts are intensely fun and the serious parts are equally intense. In all, the film exceeded my expectations in every way.