Some kids have the gift of music or writing, and then some can levitate objects and fly. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan star in Chronicle.
Director – Josh Trank
Screenplay – Max Landis
Producer – John Davis & Adam Schroeder
Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking
Chronicle is a found-footage film thatcenters around the lives of three Seattle teenagers: Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) and their friend Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). While Matt and Steve are more of the social butterflies at their school, Andrew is the loner of the three who is dealing with certain family issues back at home.
One night while at a party, the three have found something strange deep down within a hole in the woods. Naturally, their curiosity overtakes them and they venture down to find out what it is, which winds up being a mysterious crystalline object. The object begins to glow, causing the three pain, and the camera then cuts out. Weeks later, we see that the three have gained some sort of telekinetic power that gives them superhuman abilities. Being the typical high schoolers they are, they use them to create mischief at first, but as their powers begin to grow stronger, they soon realize it becomes harder and harder to keep them in check.
At the time of Chronicle’s release, the found-footage format – made popular by Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project before it – was wearing out its welcome. Sure, we had Cloverfield, but we also had two Paranormal Activity sequels, The Devil Inside, Quarantine, and Apollo 18. At first, I thought, whoopty-doo, another found-footage film. How fresh.
Chronicle is, though.
Yes, it’s another found-footage film, but like Cloverfield, the filmmakers behind this film brought something unique to the table instead of just giving us another tired and rehashed ghost story. Together, director Josh Trank (in his feature-length film debut) and screenwriter Max Landis have put together a film that’s part superhero origin story, part dark sci-fi fantasy, and part troubled teen drama, and those three story elements never once feel out of place or tonally imbalanced as they weave amongst each other. It’s always the film’s primary benefit when you have a writer and director that complement each other so well, and Trank and Landis complement each other’s talent very effectively.
Part of what makes this film great is how well these characters – in particular, Andrew – are developed over the short time span of just a little over 80 minutes. We don’t need to know the what, when, where and why of whatever it was that gave them their powers. We don’t get bogged down in a subplot involving a government conspiracy or a spacecraft that crash landed. This is about Andrew, Matt and Steve. We just know that they now have powers and watching how they handle them is entertaining, yet also dark at times. At first, when they get these abilities, they act like immature kids ’cause that’s what they are. You think they’re gonna run off and save the world? Hell, no. If I was given the power of invisibility at the hormone raging age of 16, you know very well what the first thing I’d do is.
Prevent crime. What’d you think I was gonna say? Spy on the girls showering in the locker room?
Yeah, you’re right. I would.
The character of Andrew Detmer is not only the standout character in terms of development, it’s also the standout performance from Dane DeHaan. That’s not to take away anything from the talented performances given from Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan. DeHaan, though, captures every emotion of what it’s like to be an alienated teenager, who has it bad just as much at school as he does at home, perfectly. I don’t wanna give much away to those that haven’t seen this film, but he manages to make us feel for a character that we normally wouldn’t feel for, given the choices he makes down the road. We know they’re not the right choices, but when we see what he’s gone through, we certainly understand why he made them. It’s a terrific performance from DeHaan and one that put him on the map of talented young stars to keep an eye out for.
Like other found-footage films, we get the usual camera gimmicks and effects that make the viewer wonder how exactly did they do that? Some of the gimmicks are fairly clever, and Trank does mix it up with various camera point-of-view shots, but the effects aren’t mind-blowing by any means. There are a few moments where that is evident, but it’s a forgivable flaw considering this is more a story first type of film. You’re caught up in these three characters and their initial excitement that leads to them eventually becoming overwhelmed, so you can kinda give it a pass.
Chronicle doesn’t break any new ground. At the time, it seemed like it was found-footage film #816. That said, Trank’s sharp and well-paced direction, Landis’s smartly written script and three breakout performances from DeHaan, Jordan and Russell easily transcend a tired and overused genre. The film’s not only great entertainment, but it also showcases five unique talents with careers just getting warmed up.