REVIEW: "Chronicle" Levitates The Found Footage Film To New Heights
This mutual dichotomy makes Josh Trank's directorial debut, in which ordinary people gain extraordinary abilities all through the eyes of their own cameras, a huge gamble. If he screwed up both the genres simultaneously we can only speculate that critics would hail him as the cinematic anti-Christ: his form emerging from a shakily-filmed abyss adorned with the flaming crown of the thousand-faced hero. Lucky for him his movie's pretty cool.
The key is that this isn't really a superhero movie, because in those it's taken for granted that, when bestowed with great power, the protagonist will (even if it takes him a while) behave with great responsibility. Not quite the case here. Instead, we have one ordinary, one popular, and one troubled teenager stumbling upon a Glowing Thing in the Ground that bestows them with that most versatile of superhuman attributes: Telekinesis (see: Jean Grey of the X-Men, Sylar from Heroes).
Suddenly they can move things with their mind, and though weak at first, they're quite pleased to discover as time goes by that practice makes perfect. A good deal of the runtime explores the trio using their abilities like you'd expect most 18-year-olds would, and creates a more believable answer to the question "What would happen if you got superpowers?" than any comic book movie ever has.
The story depends entirely on its three leads, and they deliver. Dane DeHaan ("In Treatment") is a powerhouse as Andrew, an outcast whose abusive father, terminally ill mother, and social isolation has rendered him in need of a barrier between himself and the outside world.
Enter the camera through which most of the film's events are recorded. His cousin and closest peer Matt is nice enough, although their pre-telekinetic acquaintance clearly arose out of familial obligation. Rounding out the principles is the effortlessly charismatic Steve Montgomery, the likely class president who, thanks to Michael B. Jordan ("The Wire," "Friday Night Lights"), comes off as the kind of guy with whom everyone really would want to be friends.
They form a very tight-knit group as they figure out their powers, but when things go a bit wrong it becomes obvious that Andrew's emotional scars run deeper than his newfound friendships can heal, and he gradually but inevitably begins manifesting his desperate rage. The tragic thing about the film is that Andrew might not be the kind of kid to go out and buy a gun. His telekinesis, though, is a constant deadly force that, through some misread philosophy, he comes to regard as evidence that he's a superior life form. Kind of like Magneto, but far less refined or justified in his beliefs than the mutant Malcolm X.
He comes most at odds with Matt, who has a passing interest in philosophy himself. But when push (literally) comes to shove it's obvious that he doesn't actually buy into the nihilism to which he glibly references. Matt's arc is much more uplifting, as he has to convince both himself and the girl he's interested in (who, by filming things for her blog, is more an excuse for a camera than a fully-realized character) that he might want to be his own sort of hero after all.
Everything gels together nicely, with strong central characters realized equally by the script and the actors, and Trank's direction largely keeps the telekinesis from appearing cheesy. "Chronicle" would work without it's found footage hook, but the format actually avoids the realm of pure gimmickry by layering the story more often than it distracts to deliver a very pure illustration of the idea at the heart of most accounts of supernatural ability: There is no greater test than how we respond to power.