Chronicle: An Exciting, Fresh Take on Super Heroes and Villains

Chronicle is an unexpectedly entertaining film that follows three Seattle students who suddenly gain incredible powers. Under director Josh Trank this film provides a new, intriguing spin on the development of heroes and villains in our world, and how no story is as straight-forward as it seems.

Premise: Three high school students suddenly gain remarkable powers after making an incredible discovery but soon, find that these powers may be more than they can handle. Result: An exciting film that provides a strong story, as well as fun scenes.

The film begins with Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) who has decided to begin filming the world around him, largely to capture the horror that has become the life of an outcast.  His life, like the lives of so many socially awkward teenagers, is painful but in some sad ways nothing out of the ordinary: an abusive father, a deathly ill mother, and a miserable high school experience that has left him cynical, withdrawn and angry.

Each scene is another example of the pain he feels, the mistreatment he experiences; and even his cousin Matt Garrety (Alex Russell) finds it difficult to relate to the sullen, morose creature he has become.  But they are family and Matt stcks by his somber cousin; in fact, Matt convinces Andrew to come with him to a party one evening and while it is certainly strange that Andrew decides to bring his camera (which Matt repeatedly points out) it does make sense with this character more so than in most stories of similar type; here Andrew is using the camera as a means to both explore and hide, a typical activity in teens who feel threatened and alone.

While at the party, Andrew encounters Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) who requests the use of his camera after Steve and Matt discover something they would like to film.  Trank somehow makes this all work together seamlessly, making it both believable and logical.  Andrew follows Steve reluctantly, clearly agonizing over being drawn into these shenanigans.

However, what they find is far from the mundane.  They discover, deep within what appeared at first to be a large sinkhole in a field near the party (keeping in mind others had seen the hole also but chose to walk away), a strange glowing object, large enough to completely elude explanation and as they approach it, they are overcome.

The story jumps to several days or weeks later with the three boys in a backyard where they are now able to use strangely acquired powers of telekinesis, where each of them can move objects with his mind.  At first, this proves difficult and dangerous (nose bleeds and dizziness accompany many of their early efforts) but as they use these powers more regularly, they find that, as Matt comments, “it’s like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets.”  Eventually, they are moving larger objects and even flying.

At the heart of this story is the friendship that the three boys develop, becoming best friends, overcoming even the greatest social barriers now that they have this secret in common.  And this is certainly an underlying theme, the nature of equality of position, where circumstances can unite.  It also manages to build the characters from one-dimensional tools for the plot to interesting, deep individuals: whether exploring Andrew’s relationship with his mother and father to Matt’s pursuit of Casey (Ashley Hinshaw).

But it is also a sad tale of the traumas that go on in our schools that so afflict our children, that even when life altering events transpire, the damage is done, the scars run so deep that true healing is no longer possible.  And Andrew, as the victim of a life as a misfit, an awkward outcast, becomes unstable; his power, due to his innate intelligence has grown stronger than his companions, and thus far more dangerous.  Events transpire that grow Andrew’s insecurities, allowing them to fester even as his powers become astonishing to behold. 

Chronicle does a very good job of making a supposedly absurd premise seem plausible and better still, exhilarating.  We understand the characters, the reasons they react certain ways, the stream of events that results in excitement or tragedy – Trank makes the film worth believing.  While there are a few hiccoughs now and again, Chronicle does a good job of focusing on the boy’s powers and their personal growth rather than the scientific explanations, which would likely open them up to plot holes and criticism. Additionally, even the presence of the camera, which is deftly exchanged between the boys and Casey’s camera, does not elicit incredulity; instead, when one vantage point begins to defy reason, another angle is taken rather seamlessly.

The acting in this film is very good overall.  While at times there is a sense that the specific lines are somewhat impromptu, the key players all work well in their roles. DeHaan is very successful at cultivating a gloomy, wounded brooding that stems from his personal agony; even his appearance is miserable, looking like someone in desperate need of a long nap. Russell is also powerful as the film progresses and along with Jordan, manages to fashion an authentic human texture to the story.

While still not perfect, Chronicle is exciting and deep, managing to tell an interesting story with familiar constraints yet with unfamiliar results.  As the resolution develops, audiences will feel satisfied, and better still, likely want to watch it again.

Rating: 7- A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

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