If shaky-cam film Cloverfield (2008) felt like giving a video camera to a random victim in a Godzilla movie, Chronicle is the equivalent of watching Revenge of the Sith through Anakin Skywalker's own YouTube account and the iPhones and FlipCams of various Jedi.
While I love several entries in the "found-footage" genre (my favorites: Cloverfield, the Norwegian Troll Hunter, and The Blair Witch Project), the device has felt limited in scope and appeal. Could it be used much outside of horror? Could it not induce vomiting, or look like a junior higher made it? How much more could really be done with the confines that a character has to hold a camera all the time? But by innovatively combining this device with the increasingly tired genre of superheroes, first-time director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis (son of John) come out of nowhere to invigorate both. It's a joy to see true inspiration on film.
Chronicle is a surprisingly complex, personal, and dark video diary of three Seattle teens who mysteriously gain Jedi-like telekinetic powers. It's fast, fresh, furious and frenetic while managing to still be personal and moving at the same time. It's Carrie meets The X-Men meets TV show Heroes.
Most of us love to believe we'd use superpowers for the greater good, to help people, to be heroes—and with great responsibility. But Chronicle maintains that most teens—indeed, most of us—aren't Peter Parker. With great power comes no guarantee at all of responsibility. "In stories, superpowers are generally applied to good and evil, but in reality they'd be applied to necessity," says Trank. "And when you're a teenager, necessity is really about making yourself happy. You'd want to laugh and have a good time with those powers."
At first, having fun is how Andrew (True Blood's Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell), and Steve (Friday Night Light's Steve Montgomery) use their new gifts. In several playful discovery scenes, they build Legos with no hands, prank people at the mall, and, in a wonderfully inventive sequence, play catch thousands of feet above the ground.
But as the innocent novelty wears off and real-life struggles resurface, more selfish impulses take over. Why put up with jerks? Why not use these superpowers to pick up girls or become popular? Instead of asking if power needs responsibility, the movie explores the possibility that maybe those with power can do whatever they want.
This line of thinking—birthed out of hurt and humiliation—leads one of boys down an Anakin-like slippery slope. In fact, the film is a first-person chronicle (get it?) of his descent. We watch up-close as this hurting boy's natural desires to matter, to be liked, to help his dying mom, to find peace, and to stop being picked on eventually lead him to the dark side.
This relatable journey is captivating. Supported by strong characterization and great acting (especially DeHaan), this is a story that draws you in. You care. And that investment allows the filmmakers to stage a bold, epic final act that means more than just cool visuals.