Chronicle opens as a clever mishmash of genres and gimmicks. It’s got nerds and bullies like any high-school flick; it’s got cameras galore like everyone else in this age of obsessive self-documentation; it’s got teens with superpowers like your basic Marvel comic; and it’s got point-of-view footage like all those Blair Witch Projects and Paranormal Activities.
Sure, these borrowings are obvious but their arrangement is fresh and, like familiar chords recycled in a good new pop song, they catch our attention early on. Alas, later on, it’s just the usual noise – once again, the conceit collapses along with the movie, and all that’s left is third-act mayhem.
“I bought a camera and I’m filming everything from here on in,” promises/threatens Andrew in the very first frame. So his perspective is ours, and he (Dane DeHaan) is the standard sensitive teen, with an abusive dad, a sick mom and a passel of bullies eager to further hone his tormented side.
His cousin Matt (Alex Russell) is fond of name-checking the likes of Schopenhauer, Plato and Jung – nope, not a popular guy either. But Steve (Michael B. Jordan) is – being a star athlete and the token black kid in the ensemble, Steve’s a very likeable fellow.
All this we see courtesy of Andrew’s ubiquitous lens, occasionally glimpsing Andrew himself through an adroitly placed mirror, or when he’s being shot by bloggers with their own ever-present camera. One night, in a postparty venture into the woods, our three amigos happen upon a mysterious cave, whose depths expose them to some luminous, radioactive Thingy. Of course, next morning bright and early, they awaken blessed with their superpower – in this case, a potent telekinetic talent.
Initially, their sheer delight and horsing-around banter is fun, as the trio test drive their new skill. Heading to the mall, they propel carts down the supermarket aisle, then graduate to shifting cars in the parking lot, much to the puzzlement of their returning owners. Even better, Andrew now has the ability to suspend his camera in mid-air, delivering us from the shaky hand-held look and offering a steady aerial view. Our stomachs thank him.
Anyway, the lads soon begin to elevate themselves and master the art of flying. These scenes should be visually thrilling but in the hands of director Josh Trank, who’s guiding the camera behind the cameras, they aren’t. Too bad, since what’s left is a plot complication that takes a sharp turn into Columbine territory. His sensitive ego now swollen, Andrew is showing a troubling propensity to use his superpower not for good but for revenge. Given his philosophic bent, Matt advises caution, “We need rules. We have to think,” yet don’t expect his Platonic ideals to hold sway in this teen republic.
Thus comes the mayhem. Camera in tow, Andrew goes postal on the entire city of Seattle. Fires blaze, buildings rumble, buses crash, while that iconic Space Needle hovers in the background, as photogenic as ever even amid the carnage.
It’s odd, how these high-concept films, knowing that the central gimmick has a way of wearing out its welcome, are all so short – a mere 84 minutes in this case. Why odd? Because short always ends up feeling so damn long. This is no exception. Quick to start and painfully slow to finish, Chronicle is the same old chronicle.
- Directed by Josh Trank
- Written by Max Landis
- Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
- Classification: 14A
- 2 stars