Chronicle Review

The superhero origin story gets the found footage treatment in Josh Trank's excellent Chronicle.

Is there any group of people less equipped to responsibly deal with obtaining super powers than teenage boys? Would they ever even use them for anything other than goofing off and trying to impress girls? Chronicle shows us that while yes, they do use them for a lot of goofing off and trying to impress girls but in the hands of a troubled outsider, they can also be used for a great deal worse.

The teenage boys in question here are dark loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and aspiring politician, jock and all round cool guy Steve (Michael B Jordan). Andrew is going through a hard time, both at home and at school. At home his mother is dying, permanently hooked up to an oxygen tank in their living room. His father is angry and depressed and takes this out on Andrew, verbally and physically. At school he is lonely and a target for bullies, with his cousin Matt acting as his only friend. Andrew decides to document all of this on his new camera and the film we see is shot almost entirely through Andrew’s lens.

Matt convinces Andrew to tag along to a party one night out in the woods where they find a large hole in the ground. Along with wannabe class president Steve, the boys head down the hole, armed only with Andrew’s camera and their iPhones. Deep down in the whole, they discover some sort of UFO, the origins of which are wisely never revealed, and it gifts the trio with telekinetic powers.

The boys begin experimenting with their new found abilities, at first using it to stop baseballs seconds before they hit their face and moving lego bricks. They soon realise their powers can be trained and developed like a muscle and the more they use them, the stronger they get. Soon they are pranking strangers, moving their cars or taunting them with floating teddy bears, and eventually they can even fly. This section of the film is the most fun, with the three leads toying around the way teenagers invariably would with these kinds of abilities.

The level headed Matt thinks they should lay down some rules, involving never using their powers in public, on living things or when they’re angry. This becomes a problem when Andrew slowly begins to disregard these rules, losing control and lashing out with his powers when things don’t go his way. As Andrew’s anger develops, the film takes a turn for the darker and eventually descends into carnage with a third act that doesn’t quite add up or provide a satisfying conclusion to what’s gone before.

However Chronicle is a highly impressive debut from director Josh Trank, only 26 years old. He handles the found footage angle well, finding inventive ways to show us plenty of Andrew while he is still the one filming the majority of it. The film is clearly derivative but does a good job of mixing it’s inspirations well, with it’s teenage superheroes angle calling to mind Spiderman and the powerful youth being corrupted by his anger evoking Anakin Skywalker. It’s also worth noting that for such a low budget film ($15 million) the effects are brilliantly done throughout, especially an impressive staged set piece involving the Seatlle Spaceneedle.

The young cast are impressive too. With only really a handful of TV appearances behind them, they all step up to the plate and nail their roles, with DeHaan perhaps the most impressive though he clearly has the meatiest role.

The film’s main downfall is the third act, which seems like Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of John) just didn’t quite know how to wrap it up. They took the story to the right place but once there seemed to lose track and throw everything at it. The closing scenes that arrive after the chaotic climax are even worse and feel tacked on to end the film on a more positive and definitve note rather than the downbeat, open ended penultimate scene. Despite this, there’s undoubtedly a lot to come from all involved here, just hopefully not a needless Chronicle sequel.