In high school, Judge Erich Asperschlager was voted "Least Likely to Develop Superpowers."
"I can fly!"
On paper, Chronicle sounds like an attempt to cash in on two popular genres. "Found footage" movies like the Paranormal Activity series are a staple of October horror programming, while superhero movies have all but taken over the Summer blockbuster season. It's hard to believe it took so long for someone to combine the two.
That would be the cynical interpretation, of course. Chronicle, directed by Josh Trank and co-written by Max Landis, is more than a marketing ploy. Though the film is wrapped in familiar genre tropes, they are just the delivery system for a heartfelt character drama about teenagers in crisis.
Facts of the Case
Three boys find a glowing object that gives them telekinetic powers, but as they struggle to control their new abilities, what brought them begins to tear them apart.
Chronicle isn't really a found footage movie. It doesn't explain who edited the home video footage together, and it doesn't pretend any of it actually happened. It's just a way for Trank and Landis to tell their story. This loose approach frees the director to include shots you wouldn't see in similar movies, complete with a clever story conceit to explain the use of a free-roaming camera. Even if shooting on handheld video allowed them to make an ambitious movie on a limited budget, it's more than a gimmick. It's part of the story. When loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan, In Treatment) buys a camera to document his miserable life, he uses it to create a barrier between himself and the bullies who torment him at school and at home. Even when the camera draws unwanted attention—as it does from neighborhood toughs and creeped-out cheerleaders—it gives him a feeling of control. Things take a turn when he is invited to join his cousin Matt (Alex Russell, Wasted on the Young), and a popular kid named Steve (Michael B. Jordan, Parenthood), into the woods to film them exploring a mysterious cave.
Andrew, Steve, and Matt begin their Origin Story in that cave. Inside, they find a glowing space orb that gives them telekinetic powers. Like their comic book counterparts, they start by using their abilities to pull stupid pranks. It's all a laugh until Andrew goes too far by running an annoying driver's car off the road. His friends get scared and decide to set ground rules, but this isn't a Marvel morality tale, and no one learns any grand life lesson. These are teenage boys after all, more interested in doing cool stunts and scoring with girls, as Matt does when he falls for the pretty Casey (Ashley Hinshaw, LOL)—who, it just happens, also carries a camera with her at all times. Chronicle further departs from superhero conventions by giving all three boys the same abilities. There's no sampler platter of powers, as in the Justice League or Fantastic Four. The boys aren't defined by their newfound ability, but by what they each choose to do with it.
Giving normal kids telekinetic abilities is a cool idea, but it's not a movie. Trank and Landis use super powers as the catalyst for a story about the destructive potential of loneliness. Being a teenager is confusing enough without adding near-unlimited power into the mix. Andrew embraces his abilities because he thinks they will give him entry into the high school elite. He's wrong. In the end, they just amplify his fragile emotional state, and put him and his friends on a dangerous path. Andrew's story has parallels in the real world to tragedies like the one at Columbine. His superhuman weapons are the stuff of fiction, but the feelings that inspire his violent retribution are, sadly, all too real. What begins as a small story builds to an epic third act, complete with big set pieces and special effects. The tonal shift doesn't vibe with the first part of the movie, but Trank pulls off a thrilling climax for his first feature. Chronicle doesn't always find a balance between character drama and superhero action, but at least its filmmakers are interested in both.
Shot on HD cameras, Chronicle looks better on Blu-ray than most found footage flicks. Detail isn't as strong as your average hi-def blockbuster, but it's an obvious upgrade. The colors and black levels are solid, with no digital tinkering beyond the consumer-grade home video look. The 1.85:1/1080p transfer falters a bit during some of the effects-heavy sequences, where added detail makes the CGI more obvious. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track dazzles in places, delivering strong low end and surround effects that make it clear this isn't actually home video. The audio-visual presentation is stuck in a weird middle ground, where it doesn't look as authentic as the handheld look it is trying to emulate, or as impressive as the studio film it clearly is.
Chronicle on Blu-ray comes with two versions of the film: the 84-minute theatrical version and a the slightly longer "director's cut," which adds 5 more minutes, and is exclusive to the hi-def format. I hope those extra five minutes are enough for you, because there aren't many extras:
• Deleted Scene (1:10): "Matt and Casey in Kitchen" gives us a little more of their budding romance.
• Pre-Viz (7:48): Two scenes from the movie—the boys' first experiments with flight, and the climactic battle—blocked out in rough form on the computer.
• Camera Test (3:58): An early test version of the diner and parking lot scenes, with different actors.
Chronicle may not completely satisfy fans of either found footage or superhero films, but it borrows freely from both genres to create something new. The story works best when it focuses on the struggles of its characters, especially Andrew. In him, co-writers Josh Trank and Max Landis have created a chilling reminder of what can happen when society chooses to marginalize and ignore troubled teenagers.
Not guilty. Now put me down!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scene
Review content copyright © 2012 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.