Film Review: Chronicle

"I’m filming this,” declares Andrew (Dane DeHaan), as his father (Michael Kelly), drunk at 7 a.m., pounds on the bedroom door. “I bought a camera, and I’m filming everything from here on out.” The door shakes under one last, heavy blow, and goes still.

It is a magnetic opening moment all the more powerful for the fact that, as Andrew examines the video camera and launches into his first soliloquy, it subsides immediately into awkward, adolescent introspection.


Directed by Josh Trank.
Starring Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw.

Comfortable behind the lens, Andrew continues filming as his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) drives him to school, telling him about a party that evening and warning him not to bring his camera.
But Andrew brings the camera, either prizing the feeling of objective distance it gives him or simply wanting to chronicle his incipient social life along with his dad’s abuse and the decline of his cancer-stricken mother.

A few hours later, he is exploring a strange cave with Matt and destined student body president Steve Montgomery (The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan), their school’s golden child. Matt asks whether anyone else knows about Plato’s allegory of the cave, and suddenly the trio discover a giant crystal glowing auspiciously with the unmistakable light of a plot device.

Cut to black, and Andrew, Matt and Steve are playing baseball – but when they hurl balls at one another’s faces, the balls curve through the air or hover in place. Deducing that their newfound telekinesis operates like a muscle, with nosebleeds signalling overuse, they proceed to “work out” their abilities via pranks on classmates and strangers.

Though billed as a mash-up between the found-footage and superhero genres, Chronicle is properly neither, imbuing its protagonists with superhuman abilities but foregoing the whole heroic alpha male shtick in order to demonstrate its characters’ differences in outlook and their consequences.

And those consequences are commensurate with their growing powers.

At first, it’s disciplining an overly aggressive driver with a shockwave that nearly kills him in driving him off the road – prompting Matt to conceive of rules (no using their power in public or against living creatures, for instance). As their abilities develop, their pranks and quarrels and wrongdoings become amplified and, eventually, very dangerous.

The tone first-time director Josh Trank lends to the story further belies the superhero comparison. Self-aware but not smart-alecky, and with a deadly earnest dark streak, Chronicle has more in common with Vincenzo Natali’s grim Splice than with Sam Raimi’s wise-cracking Spider-Man.

As Andrew’s telekinesis outstrips that of his friends, he discovers that his father no longer poses any threat to him, which frees him not only of his fears but his inhibitions along with them. He can crush a car like a soda can. He can take a spider apart in mid-air the way Dr. Manhattan did a tank in Watchmen. He begins to consider himself an “apex predator.”

Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin was a more thorough and more deliberate study in the makings of a sociopath, but Chronicle has its own ideas about loner kids and potential mental illness. And though it explores them with teen-action-movie blinders on, even that much is progress for the genre.

Trank likewise puts a new spin on the found footage gimmick, occasionally switching feeds from Andrew’s camera to that of Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), the school’s token gorgeous video blogger and Matt’s hopeless crush, for a literal second viewpoint.

But when it all hits the fan and snippets from arbitrary police and security cameras feed inexplicably into the movie, the conceit collapses (either that or it becomes a stream-of-consciousness narrative from the perspective of Eagle Eye’s malevolent A.I.). Chronicle seems to miss the point of the found footage style when it releases itself from the confines of Andrew and Casey’s cameras – only to try and climb right back in for a loftily sappy ending.

As with Attack the Block, when a neophyte director and a cast of unknowns put together something that compares favourably to the standard Hollywood blockbuster – and Chronicle’s budget was a mere $12 million – it deserves notice.

Dane DeHaan is superlative in the lead role, resembling a young Leonardo DiCaprio in acting chops as well as in appearance, and Jordan – who deserves more time on screen – impresses as Steve. With Russell they capture teenage male group dynamics taken to the umpteenth degree, and it is quite a ride.