If teen angst were a superpower, it would probably look like this. When all those hormones are raging, what teen doesn’t want the ability to fly out of awkward situations, crush things at will, or be the coolest kid in school? But once you can do that, what happens next? Who makes the rules when you have ultimate power?
To answer those questions, Josh Trank and Max Landis’ debut feature Chronicle uses the found-footage technique to imagine three teens who suddenly become superpowered, amplifying all those confused emotions to a godlike scale. The movie is a surprisingly entertaining outing. Anyone who was ever a teenager can connect with Chronicle’s characters, and for once, the found-footage approach actually works.
Chronicle opens, as found-footage movies must, with an explanation of why the characters always have a camera with them. Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is a high-school senior whose mother is ill and whose father is spending his disability cheques on booze. Andrew begins filming his life partly to ward away abuse from his father and partly as a barrier between himself and society. Like many teens, Andrew feels more comfortable recording the world than participating in it.
Andrew, along with his equally awkward older cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the popular guy Steve (Michael B. Jordan), happen across a cave in a field one night. Inside, they find something that grants them amazing powers: telekinesis, flight, and invulnerability. At first, it’s just a way to mess around. Andrew, however, starts to see his powers as something to hold over others, and his friends have to decide how to handle Andrew’s ambition to be more than just a teenager with a cool secret.
Chronicle’s young actors have a surprising amount of range. DeHaan is convincing as a kid whose home life is deteriorating, who is bullied and ridiculed at school, and who just wants a way to escape it all. Russell anchors the movie as the young intellectual who can’t quite get the girl, who wants to keep everything under control. And Jordan feels very familiar as that guy who is good at everything, who becomes friends with the other two only because of their shared experience.
With a found-footage movie like Chronicle, you’re kind of obligated to talk about the camera work. Going in, I wasn’t sure how the technique would be used. After all, the subgenre has a bad reputation. Films like 2008’s Cloverfield made some viewers ill. Others made suspension of disbelief impossible, with scenes where it's totally improbable for characters to be taking their cameras out to record the experience.
Chronicle is much smarter. In the YouTube age, it’s much more likely for teens like Andrew to keep their cameras on at all times, obsessed with the notion that someone out there is sympathizing with them. And when self-recording just wouldn’t make sense, like the fight scene in the third act, Chronicle switches to police dashboard cams or security footage.
In the flight scenes, director Josh Trank is one step ahead of the audience. Andrew teaches himself how to keep a camera levitating around him, so even shots of the kids zooming through the clouds above Washington state have a believable vantage point.
The script, by Trank’s filmmaking partner Max Landis (son of Hollywood director John Landis), is well-plotted, and doesn’t give too much up to exposition. We don’t need to know how or why the strange underground crystal gave the teens their powers. It’s not necessary to explicitly say that Andrew’s videos are starting to resemble those of a troubled kid about to bring a gun to school. The filmmakers trust the audience to fill in the blanks.
Above all, what really works about Chronicle is the teens being irresponsible with their powers. In standard superhero movies, there’s usually a line to remind us that great power needs to be controlled. What real kid, granted these abilities, would default to that sort of self-discipline? Instead, these teens pull pranks, impress girls and act like we would expect them to. That “honesty”, paired with the shooting style, is both entertaining and fascinating. Chronicle gets three and half stars out of four.
What did you think of Chronicle? Did you connect with the characters? How did you feel about the way it was shot? Is found footage getting old, or does this movie revitalize the genre? Are you curious to see what Josh Trank and Max Landis do next? Post your thoughts in the comments section down below, and share this review with your friends and followers! You can also check out my recent reviews by following these links:
Reviews of Classic Movies: