Great responsibility takes a backseat when teenagers gain great power
With great power comes great responsibility. With an addiction to Red Bulls and a childhood spent listening to Kanye West songs, though, responsibility might just be put on the waiting list.
In Josh Trank’s film Chronicle, three young men are gifted with the power of telekinesis. At first this gift extends to Jackass-like pranks in the backyard. As the three continue to play with their new abilities, though, their power begins to increase and soon the three adolescents are a cape and tights away from being genuine superheroes.
Trank, who co-developed the story with writer Max Landis, has created a fun, surprisingly dark superhero film without the heroics. The protagonists of Chronicle are less inclined with saving the world as they are with using their power to pick up women, take vengeance on their abusive parents and find the thrills that are so often lacking in the day-to-day doldrums of adolescent life.
Dane DeHaan stars as Andrew Detmer, the young boy who decides one day to start filming his life. The world is pretty shitty for young Andrew. His mother is dying, his father is an abusive prick and his only friend is a cousin who’d rather not spend too much time with his social outcast kin. It’s never quite explained what Andrew hoped to get out of documenting his life with a video camera except perhaps to put a shield between him and his depressing surroundings. By hiding behind a camera, Andrew might have hoped to cast a voyeuristic shadow of his empty life. Whatever the reason (and when dealing with teenagers, reason very rarely factors into the conversation) Andrew’s sudden need to hide behind a camera leads to him being able to chronicle his ascension from high school nerd to pissed-off demigod as he and two classmates gain powers and quickly let it corrupt them.
Alex Russell is Matt Garetty, Andrew’s cousin and another superpowered teen. Following the Marvel Comics-patented approach to heroics, Matt’s story is the one of hero ascension. Out of the three telekinetic teens, Matt is the least concerned with powers. He enjoys playing around with them but when push comes to shove, he’d rather spend his time trying to woo a young teenager blogger at his school. When Andrew goes rouge, though, it’s up to Matt to rise to the challenge and become the hero he had previously showed no interest in being.
As Steve Montgomery, Michael B. Jordan is the most disposable of the teens. A wannabe politician and star student jock, Steve’s involvement in the incident that gave the boys thier powers was almost accidental. He had no real ties to the other two boys and his character’s purpose seems superficial and unnecessary. That being said, he’s the only truly likable character in the film. A genuinely nice kid, Steve becomes the friend that Andrew was so desperately in need of.
Together, the three teens have good chemistry. As they spend most of the movie goofing off and developing their powers, audiences happily go along for the ride. None of the teens lets the inherent obnoxiousness that comes with youth overpower the film and, when it is time for things to get creepy and the proverbial shit to hit the fan, the actors buckle down and do the work that is called of them.
Chronicle follows a lot of the same beats as the classic Japanese animated movie Akira. And, like Akira, the action steadily rises until the film features a whopper of a third act. It’s the film’s unrelenting need to please — whether through the vicarious thrill of selfishly using superpowers or through a pretty steady supply of action set pieces — that helps Chronicle beat through the repetitive nature of its story.
After a while, the kids powers become — gasp — boring. Whether it’s flying or throwing things around in the air, the limited nature of all three teens having telekinesis leads to a story that becomes dangerously close to being tedious. Not helping matters is the unfinished look of much of the film’s special effects. Considering the low budget, the film’s look is impressive but not impressive enough to champion past the film’s few weak spots.
What’s interesting, though, is the film’s nature as a found footage movie. Chronicle would have worked just as well — if not better — if told in the traditional narrative structure. The found footage angle adds nothing to the plot but it doesn’t necessarily take away from it either. Gaps in footage leave room for material to mine in any potential sequels and the film even finds a nice organic way to move past found footage films’ usual static and boring cinematography.
That said, the film’s climax does redeem the film’s found footage format by taking a page from Stephen King’s original novel “Carrie.” As the teens take to the Seattle skyline to do battle against one another, the resulting fight scene is captured through a variety of media sources — from digital cameras to cell phones to security video. This approach gives a fresh feeling to a film that, while always exciting, frequently suffered from déjà vu.
Director: Josh Trank Notable Cast: Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly and Alex Russell Writer(s): Max Landis
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.