“Chronicle” was sort of billed as a super-hero movie, but the characters don’t really go out and fight crime. It’s more a movie about super-POWERS, specifically telekinesis, which it turns out can be pretty versatile in the right hands. Three high school guys discover a sinkhole with some kind of glowing asteroid at the bottom. The film never explains what this is, but after the exposure, the guys start to develop telekinesis, the ability to move objects with thoughts. There’s no one around to explain what is happening to them or why, but they do a pretty good job teaching themselves to move objects and eventually themselves, allowing them to fly. Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), both popular, well-adjusted teens, realize that they need to establish for themselves some rules about when and where they will use their new skills. Andrew (Dane Dehaan), Matt’s nerdy cousin, whose life alternates between being abused by his father and being abused by bullies at school, is quicker to master his powers and less interested in limiting his use of them. The story from there is predictable, but action-packed.
Creators Josh Trank and Max Landis use an interesting conceit to tell this story. The film starts out like a standard, “BlairWitch”-type found footage movie, with Andrew filming himself and his friends with a camcorder. As the story progresses, however, it includes footage captured on other cameras from within the story, often cell phones or security cameras. This allows for a more traditional narrative flow, and it invites one to consider just how much time we spend now under the camera eye.
“Chronicle” also has something to say about abuse and bullying. Given how much Andrew has suffered at the hands of those stronger than he, it’s no shock that he abuses his power when he is finally given the means to fight back. One could easily re-imagine this story with Andrew getting his hands on a gun, with the same results. In either case, the problem isn’t that he gets the means to fight back. The problem is that he was allowed to suffer so much humiliation, and no one around him thought that they should step up and help him.
As mentioned, once the setup is established, “Chronicle” descends into stock storylines (Think “Carrie“). Fortunately, the action and performances were good enough to keep me glued to my seat anyway. It’s easy to see why the film was able to amass a worldwide gross of $123 million on a budget of only $12 million. Despite rehashing old storylines and concepts, the script and dialogue are smart, and the actors are pretty convincing as high school students. Once things get rocking, the action is really bad-ass, especially for a pretty low-budget film.