Directed By: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Bo Petersen, Ashley Hinshaw
If you got superpowers, what would you do with them? Seriously? I’d like to bet most wouldn’t suit up like Spider-Man and clean the streets of crime. Well, not initially at least. High school-aged or not, most of us would probably partake in the shenanigans the leading trio of Chronicle enjoy. But that’s not to say this novel superhero flick is all fun and games. In fact, it boasts a great deal of depth, intertwining the out-of-this-world action with some very real troubling issues.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a bit of an outcast and makes himself even more socially awkward by buying a video camera and documenting his entire life. Camera in tow, Andrew tags along with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) to a big school party out in the middle of nowhere. During a lonesome sulking session, Matt and the big man on campus, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), convince Andrew to film this crazy thing they found, a massive hole out in the woods. Then, they opt to take it one step further, going down into the hole and through the passage.
Cut to a new day. Andrew, Matt and Steve are together again, but this time, they’re not just partaking in your average after school activities; they’re throwing baseballs at each other – with their minds. Turns out, whatever happened down in that hole left the boys with superhero-like powers. But this isn’t Peter Parker, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne we’re talking about. These are teenagers and they’re looking to have some fun with their new abilities. However, a few harmless pranks later, they come to realize that there’s a breaking point and if they don’t learn to control their growing powers, they could really hurt someone.
Another superhero movie? Another found footage movie? Hold on just a second; just because Chronicle consists of two elements that have been used and abused recently, doesn’t mean it can’t put its own spin on them. In fact, Chronicle really does manage to make itself a new breed in both respects.
Traditionally, superheroes are glorified good guys. Even if they do have sour attitudes at first, eventually they come to realize that “with great power, comes great responsibility” and become the ultimate boy scouts, defending the innocent against evil. However, Chronicle really makes due on one of its poster’s taglines, “Boys will be boys,” and that’s what makes it so much fun and also so notably different. You ever think what would really happen if a teenager acquired supernatural powers? Perhaps it would go down much like it does in Chronicle.
You know those YouTube videos of pranks that we all watch over and over again? That’s kind of what Chronicle feels like. Andrew, Matt and Steve take to the streets doing silly things – terrorizing a little girl with a floating stuffed animal, moving a woman’s car from one parking spot to another while she’s not looking. Harmless pranks and, just like those YouTube videos, they’re all pretty hilarious. When Chronicle takes a turn for the worst, it gets fairly grim, but thanks to writer Max Landis’ decision to tell the tale via Andrew’s perspective, it works rather well.
Andrew’s got a rough life. On top of his problems at school, his mother is dying and his father is an abusive drunk. No, that doesn’t stop us from having fun with his power pranks, but when using the abilities excessively sparks tough times, Andrew’s bleak life helps make for a smooth and appropriate transition. However, Andrew does have his better moments and those wind up enhancing the film’s ups and downs and making for a particularly powerful third act.
Minus a few minor plot holes and a weak attempt at throwing a girl into the equation, the script is pretty solid, but there’s no denying that it’s Chronicle’s leading trio that really brings it to life. DeHaan, Russell and Jordan deliver three incredibly natural performances, an absolute must for any film, but perhaps more so to sell a found footage film. As for that shooting technique, Chronicle puts it to good use and also expands on it, using the boys’ abilities to whip the camera around in the air with their minds, giving us a seemingly endless amount of vantage points. As far as the cinematography goes, all of the found footage rules basically break down during the tail end of the film, cutting to all sorts of “real” camera perspectives with abandon, making you second think whether a camera really could have been there or this was just a cooler way to show the audience the action.
As for that action, at times, it can be a little tough to take seriously, particularly when flying comes into play, but at that point, you’re so engrossed in the film, it’s quite easy to shake off and just accept. There are also quite a handful of more intimate moments that not only look authentic, but pack the power to really stick with you, namely the death of an innocent spider and a moment during which the image of bloodstained pavement is quite disturbing.
Overall, Chronicle works. We get three main characters that are easy to fall for, a basic premise that’s exciting and also something you might have thought up yourself while daydreaming. At just under an hour a half, Chronicle is short and sweet, but perhaps a bit too much to really flesh out some of the film’s layers. However, this one seems as though it could be rather infectious and worthy of multiple viewings, so there’ll be more than enough time to explore even after the credits roll for round one.