dir. Josh Trank
Release Date: Feb 03, 12
When angry, broken teenagers pop up in most movies coming out of any major studio, they tend to fall into one of two categories:
A) Kids who’re really good at heart, but just have one simplistically resolved trauma fueling their rage, and who really just need to keep in perspective that adults have far tougher problems than them.
B) Shifty-eyed devils who exist as perpetual suspects in a school shooting just waiting to happen. They’re either pariahs or villains.
That Chronicle refuses to settle for such binaries is intriguing. The fact that a story about telekinetic teenagers turns into a genuinely touching portrait of raging youth, though, is something wholly separate and far more wonderful. Josh Trank, in his feature debut, has a patient eye for small moments amidst some surprisingly exhilarating action setpieces. At no point does the story (penned by Trank and fellow first-timer Max Landis, as in John’s son) forget that this is a film about teenagers, and even when the CG violence erupts, it comes from an uncannily real place.
Less a “superhero” movie than the trailers suggest, Chronicle is a tale of what would happen if an absurd deal of power was randomly assigned to teenagers; namely, they’d have no idea what to do with it beyond parlor tricks and improved sex lives. Andrew (Dane DeHaan, fantastic) drifts through life with a camera in tow, taping the banal details of his senior year of high school, which on a good day is merely unremarkable instead of actively terrible. (Yes, this is a “found footage” tale. Don’t let that deter you.) His cousin Matt (Alex Russell) worries about his unwillingness to even try socializing, but it’s tough for Andrew to worry about such things when his father is a violent drunk and his mother is slowly dying in the room next to his.
When Matt drags Andrew to a barn rave one night, Andrew takes his usual place as a camera-toting wallflower until Matt and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan), class president and all-around overachiever, drag him to a mysterious hole in the woods. Inside, they find something definitely abnormal, and after some kind of pulsating explosion, the three suddenly develop telekinetic skills. Of course, since this is the tale of three teenage boys, they test these gifts by whipping baseballs at one another using impossible geometry and harassing children in a toy store. Though they realize the need for responsibility in using their powers, that only extends to not hurting anyone. There’s no onerous contemplation of how they should use their gifts for the greater good, mercifully; for the most part, they just want to have fun with their gifts.
Things head south when Andrew decides that he doesn’t want to waste his gift on magic tricks, especially when he now has enough power to fix all the injustices in his life. That his moral compass is filtered through that of a bullied, lonely kid who’s been humiliated on a daily basis for most of his life makes him far more dangerous than Matt and Steve are ready to handle, especially when to Andrew they’re just two more of the popular kids that ruined life for him so far. It’s through Andrew’s point of view that much of Chronicle unfolds, which makes his slow meltdown all the more affecting. Andrew isn’t a villain in the traditional sense, but spiritually he’s a kindred spirit to a fair deal of school shooters*, scared and angry enough to assume power and take a kind of vengeance he finds fair. A moment in which DeHaan unfolds his theory on the “apex predator” in every species is not only frightening, but belies this.
DeHaan steals the film as Andrew, but Jordan and Russell both do solid work, the former as a cocky kid given the ability to become considerably more so and the latter as conflicted between family loyalty and a strong moral feeling that what Andrew is doing isn’t right. Even the subplots are fleshed out, as Matt’s struggles to win over a pretty blogger ring true with the tale of the alpha-male in-crowd member attempting to gain larger perspective. Just, you know, with mind control powers. Even when the film reaches its violent, jaw-dropping final throwdown, involving the partial destruction of downtown Seattle, the emotional core is omnipresent. Andrew’s catharsis might be supernatural, but it’s really no different than a kid finding solace in mosh pits or fist fights. What makes him so dangerous is he no longer has to settle for chest-beating.
*This is not to equate every quiet kid in a hoodie with a murderer. In fact, one of the most remarkable aspects of Chronicle is its unwillingness to engage in standard finger-pointing. His warped sense of morality, however, is on par.