The more comic books one has read, the less original the plot of Chronicle might seem. The idea of “what would happen if real teenagers got real superpowers in the really real world” has been done many times in that format, and those stories hit many of the same notes that Chronicle does. Furthermore, the film is clearly riding the Paranormal Activity bandwagon with its found-footage visual style. But neither of those facts can stop Josh Trank’s film from being a fresh new take on the material.
The film unfolds in a series of videos shot by social outcast Andrew (Dane DeHaan). Andrew’s camera is his only friend, and it’s with him when he and two classmates (Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan) discover a strange object that endows them with telekinetic powers. All three of the leads are not above using their powers for pranks or “this is awesome” gratification, but the film’s advertising has made it no secret that only Andrew will go in an antisocial direction.
“There will be a great many supervillains in theaters this year, but very few films will have the villain as the protagonist and suggest that he was made evil rather than born that way…
There will be a great many supervillains in theaters this year, but very few films will have the villain as the protagonist and suggest that he was made evil rather than born that way. The story spends a lot of time showing that Andrew’s own self-loathing mirrors the directionless anger of his drunken abusive father (veteran character actor Michael Kelly), and that Andrew’s loathing feeds his powers rather than being eased by them. Andrew’s self-hatred is slowly polished towards mankind-hatred in the same way that coal is transformed into diamond, leading to a climax which feels natural and intense rather than a computer-effects showcase.
Russell seems uncomfortable with the found-footage format, but he never derails the movie, and whenever he lacks energy Jordan (Friday Night Lights, The Wire) swaggers into the scene and dominates it like the class president that he’s playing. They both play second fiddle to DeHaan’s dynamite performance, a display of developing psychopathy superior even to Ezra Miller’s work in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Trank does occasionally stumble with the found-footage format, mainly because the “correct” way to express this style of film is still evolving. In certain scenes Andrew’s telekinetic control of his camera is clearly a crutch, an excuse to get rid of the handheld style and introduce crane shots and other traditional techniques. Certain beats are not only telegraphed but hit far too hard, especially a tacked-on, sequel-baiting ending. Still, that concluding scene does not waste the goodwill that Chronicle develops over its first 80 minutes, and does not prevent this film from being highly recommended.