If you suddenly got supernatural powers would you use them to rescue pretty, innocent girls and save the tri-state area? If you believe superhero movies, that’s the typical course of action. One day you’re a geeky little schnook and then BOOM! the next thing you’re battling tooth-and-nail for the safety of the metropolis.
But that’s not really what many people would probably do. Take Andrew, Matt and Steve, for instance. One day they wake up with the power to move things with their minds and their first instinct is to use it to build things with LEGOs, blow up their classmates’ skirts and win beer pong. Basically, they’re typical upperclassmen in high school not superheroes. If you want a film about altruism, go next door to “Big Miracle.”
I should backtrack and mention that the main characters of Josh Trank’s “Chronicle” didn’t just randomly wake up telekinetic. There is, like in all good sci-fi tales, an origin story. Andrew is a meek high school student with an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who’s dying of cancer. At school, he’s either ignored or bullied. One day, he’s persuaded by his popular cousin Matt to go to a rave in an abandoned barn. Matt’s friend Steve, who’s running for class president, finds a perfectly circular hole in the woods behind the party. Because they’re curious and have the irresponsibility of drunk teenagers, each descends into the pit with nothing but the light from their phones. They find something down there, but what is anybody’s guess. The glowing, crystalline object is probably meant to be extraterrestrial, but it’s never confirmed nor does it really matter.
What’s important is that, the next day the three boys wake up with the power to move things with their minds. They quickly figure out their new power is like a muscle, with exercise it gets bigger and more powerful. First it’s all fun and games. They especially enjoy the fact they can now fly and spend hours playing football among the clouds.
But soon reality calls and a telekinetic stunt goes too far. Matt and Andrew are scared and frightened by the never-before-realized ramifications of their superpowers and pledge to make rules. With great power becomes great responsibility isn’t just for Spider-Man.
But Andrew doesn’t want rules or responsibility. He’s been kicked around all his life and now he has the power, which he starts using in more and more callus ways.
This description may make “Chronicle” sound like a typical sci-fi movie. It isn’t. It’s far too smart, rarely does an action movie have a sense of adventure and a brain. Director Trank films the whole movie in that first person, “Paranormal Activity” way. Andrew records his surroundings everywhere he goes and so does a pretty blonde student named Casey. We later see security camera footage and clips from the 5 o'clock news, but i'm getting ahead of myself. The camera technique may sound like gimmick, but just think of how many people keep daily blogs or have Flip cams or iPhones in their bags. It can be a bit self-conscious in the beginning but the camera style does give a gritty authentic to what is mostly a science fiction film.
Trank also really knows how to use the do-it-yourself photography. He wisely paces the first 45 minutes or so slowly, giving us time to get to know each character and really understand them. This is more a film about psychology than pyrotechnics. The slow build makes the gangbusters climax all the more abrupt and thrilling, as well as emotionally rewarding.
Sure, the kids are self-centered and immature, but they are regular teenagers. Played by unknowns Dane DeHaan, Alex Russel, Michael Jordan and Ashley Hinshaw, the cast is fresh-faced and natural. Their action scenes are played well but so are the ones of them just fooling around. Which are also helped by the naturalistic script by Max Landis (son of director John Landis).
When “Chronicle” wants to be a big budget action film, it does so wonderfully. But it also works well as a 21st century parable about the cost of power. Much like Stephen King’s “Carrie” (a film which “Chronicles” owes a lot, both in story and atmosphere), Landis uses the supernatural as a way to explore his characters and expose their inner-demons. Andrew always had the impulse, just not the power.
We all know bullying is a big issue and there are multiple stories each year where a kid just snaps and brings a gun to school. “Chronicle” is such a story; except that Andrew isn’t given a gun, he’s given telekinesis. They say that the meek shall inherit the earth, but if we are to learn anything from this film, maybe that expression should come with an asterisk.