We’re conditioned to expect our superheroes to humbly accept that they can fly/fight/shoot webs from their wrists and quickly move on to saving the world from the forces of evil. But Josh Trank’s debut film about three high school kids who discover they have extraordinary powers flips that traditional storyline on its head in a novel way. The teens in Chronicle aren’t particularly noble, and they never give any thought to saving anyone. They’re typical kids; they want to have fun, not worry about bad guys.
Shot in found-footage style a la Cloverfield and The Devil Inside, the movie is ostensibly the video record of unhappy Seattle teenager Andrew (Dane DeHaan, Amigo), an outsider with a dying mom, an abusive dad and no friends beyond his more popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell). Andrew’s existence is fairly grim until Matt drags him to a party out in the woods (high school gatherings are apparently a lot more glossy than they used to be; I haven’t seen so many glow sticks since the last Ultra Music Festival). Along with Matt’s friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan, Red Tails) they stumble upon a strange cave. Unable to resist exploring it, they follow a trail through the cavern until they come upon … something. What is it? We never really are sure, but next thing you know, they’re above ground, laughing, joking and exploring the boundaries of telekinesis.
The best parts of Chronicle — written by Max Landis, son of director John — come as the boys revel in their newfound skills, using a leaf blower to flip up girls’ skirts at school, stopping baseballs with their minds or playing pranks on the unsuspecting customers at a nearby mall. Their sheer giddy joy at their stupendous good luck is infectious, especially once they realize they can fly.
But not even the ability to soar through the clouds can tame the anger inside Andrew — yes, he can fly, but his relationship with his father hasn’t improved — and soon his thoughts and actions grow dark and dangerous.
The found-footage style Trank employs works perfectly with this material, making the outlandish plot feel real, not fantastical. Trank even manages the neat trick of getting Andrew on film without having to pass the video camera awkwardly to the other boys (Andrew, the most powerful of the three, can manipulate objects with his mind so effectively he can float the camera away from himself to get on film). And Chronicle doesn’t totally obliterate the comic book tradition; like it or not, great power does come with great responsibility, even if Andrew has good reason to be disillusioned.
Unfortunately, the film’s climactic finale grows repetitive and goes on a little too long; once you’ve seen bodies flying and crashing through buildings once, you’ve seen it plenty. But though Chronicle won’t necessarily stick with you, it’s a pleasant surprise in the doldrums of the winter film season.
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly.
Director: Josh Trank.
Screenwriters: Max Landis, Josh Trank.
Producers: John Davis, Adam Schroeder.
A 20th Century Fox. Running time: 83 minutes. Intense action and violence, thematic material, language, sexual content, teen drinking. Opens Friday Feb. 3 at area theaters.