As the number of recognizable superheroes left to adapt into feature films shrinks (hello, Spider-Man and Superman reboots), and even semi-famous properties falter at the box office (Green Lantern), it only makes sense that studios desperate to hang onto a profitable trend would turn toward original stories, which deliver the same kind of action without any pre-existing awareness. To that end, we have Chronicle, the story of three high schoolers who find their lives completely changed when they discover a strange rock buried in a hole that gives them telekinetic abilities.
The three kids are wildly different: timid loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan, the spitting image of a young Leonardo DiCaprio); his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), who seems like an average, decent person; and Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), both class president and one of the most popular and well-known kids in the entire school. All three kids begin to drift from their original social track as they experiment with their newfound abilities, becoming close friends thanks to their shared secret, but it quickly becomes clear that Andrew is changing far more than Matt and Steve.
Chronicle is a found-footage movie, because I guess one trend isn't enough for a film to piggyback on these days. Although the technique is executed by director Josh Trank as well as any other found-footage movie, it's a real nuisance here, with too many instances where it just doesn't make sense that the characters would keep filming, such as an argument in the basement between Andrew and his abusive father (Michael Kelly), or inside a hospital room after a character gets arrested (who sets the camera up? why don't the police confiscate it?). There are at least two opportunities for people not in the know to watch the footage on the camera, and it magically doesn't happen. The fact that Matt is into a blogger named Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) who is also always filming is just ridiculous icing on an already unbelievable cake, and the whole style is a huge distraction that adds nothing to the film.
Wait, scratch that: the found footage probably helps the filmmakers pull off the various low-budget CG effects used to illustrate the characters' powers. Don't get me wrong: it's admirable and encouraging to see filmmakers trying to do things as cheaply as possible rather than burning $100 million on effects that don't tell the story any better than the budget ones do here. Still, when the cinematography and effects work in tandem, which occurs more and more as the film continues and finally peaks with a ridiculous, destructive finale, Chronicle starts to look more like a special effects demo reel than a film. (I must also note as a Seattleite that Chronicle uses some of its budget to do a gloriously, endearingly bad job of putting the Space Needle into some computerized city; I think there's exactly one shot -- a stock shot -- of a place I actually recognized.)
Still, despite these technical weights on Chronicle's shoulders, the most disappointing aspect of the film is actually the story, which throws away all the potential it has as an original screenplay to follow the origin story beats established by any number of Hollywood blockbusters. Trank and screenwriter Max Landis would be much better off speeding through the "learning the powers" nonsense and straight to the good stuff...but even the "good stuff" is predictable teen angst drama about a surly loner who starts to spin out of control. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely, but Andrew is already primed for evil right at the beginning, filled with hatred for both his deadbeat dad and the girls and popular kids who won't talk to him or beat him up. It doesn't help that Chronicle clearly wants to be an R-rated movie, awkwardly hinting at sex and language (one character hilariously yells "Screw off!" at another during a heated argument) while also being the bloodiest PG-13 I've ever seen (who knows what the MPAA is thinking). Chronicle is a film that should be better, actively trying to find a new perspective on an increasingly tired genre through its choice of setting, its style, and the means of execution. Somehow, it fails on all three counts, delivering an experience that is not only familiar, but has an even greater emphasis on spectacle than many of the Hollywood productions it's trying to trump.
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