Obnoxious teens, doing obnoxious things after they acquire super powers by mysterious means. No, that’s not just some catchy opening I came up with for this review it’s also what the trailer for CHRONICLE would have you believe is in store for you during the movie. In many ways that is sort of what you get but when you start seeing the bigger picture you notice the film is deeper than the premise or the ads can really convey. CHRONICLE brings a lot of cool ideas to the table for a kids-with-powers type of film even if the end product comes out needing a few patches to cover the rough spots.
The story is simple- a high school loner, Andrew (Dane DeHaan) decides he wants to in essence “chronicle” his day to day life by recording everything that happens to him. The reason is because he has a terrible home life because his mother is dying and his father is an abusive drunk. On top of everything else his classmates bully him and girls treat him like a creep. His cousin, Matt (Alex Russell) along with one of Matt’s friends, Steve (Michael B. Jordon) makes use of Andrew’s camera to explore a hole out where they party on a regular basis. Down there they find something mysterious that gives them telekinetic powers. The trio strikes a close friendship but Andrew gradually spirals out of control and becomes a danger to everyone around him.
Back to the trailer for CHRONICLE- it features the trio of teens using their powers to harass people in a grocery store, a toy store, a parking lot and manipulating a leaf blower to force a girl’s skirt to blow up so they can see her underwear. The trailer would have you believe you are going to hate these kids because they just go around being immature and irresponsible with their newfound powers. It’s true they do pull off some immature pranks with their powers but with a 30 second to minute long trailer you don’t get to feel bad for Andrew and his home life, or see how funny and close the trio eventually become because of the secret they all share. You can’t excuse the fact that they are teens and are not mature enough to make wise decisions at every crossroad and will likely do something self satisfying once in a while. However, they do show a human side that takes responsibility for harm they cause and attempt to look at their situation with a level head. The cool part and the more interesting aspect is that because teens are moody and impulsive is that it’s kind of scary to see and think about would happen if a teen with these powers had a complete mental breakdown- and CHRONICLE gives you the opportunity to see it unfold.
It might be disappointing to some though that the downfall of the more unpredictable character is very gradual and doesn’t happen all at once. At first I was disappointed that the more sinister actions took a while to manifest but eventually came to terms that it is more effective to present Andrew as the nice kid he has the potential to be and that he tries to be. He loves his mother and is struggling with the fact she could die any minute, his father beats him for no reason and so do his classmates. He gains some friends and you feel good to see him happy to finally feel somewhat accepted until eventually his emotions get pushed too far and a perfect landslide of misfortune just causes him to snap. When Andrew finally goes off the deep end it’s not only understandable but you actually kind of want to see him get a bit of revenge, but to an extent and he pushes beyond what most people would consider reasonable.
It’s scary to think about what could happen if a teenager had these powers and the damage that could be done. I think CHRONICLE does a great job at setting it up and eventually building to a CLOVERFIELD-esque finale that has the spectacle most are expecting- myself included. The finale though was a bit brief for my liking and while I appreciate the idea of trying to go out on an emotional beat, I found the ending to cause the film to leave with a whimper rather than a bang. It is also- to an extent- realistic to believe that while these teens have power that because teens react so strongly on emotion and are so unreasonable but also are never under full control of themselves during those moments. The actors also all do a pretty great job at making the dialogue “real” as opposed to scripted and the performances work in that context. I am far removed from high school and teenage angst but all the characters reminded me of the type of high energy youths I see when I make rare trips to a mall on the weekends. Dane DeHaan plays the part of uber angsty teen quite well in particular especially when it comes to yearning the acceptance of his peers and eventually the type that’s impossible to console when the rage starts flowing.
On a visual spectacle level I have to admit that the film hits and misses in equal measure. There are some awesome special effects on display at several points and then there are times the movement of objects is very unnatural and also the effects just don’t look good in some of those scenes. The flying scenes in particular were more effective when you can’t actually see the character because when you see them the visual of a character in mid air is noticeably stiff. You have to take the good with the bad though because when the effects are good they are unbelievably good and even if the effects are bad the imagination involved is commendable.
The script is very good and finds a way to make the found footage work in context throughout the film minus one specific character. It is eventually shown that Andrew has the ability to focus his mind on several things at a time which includes operating a camera to follow him around which is how we see so much of his rampage. However, it is also shown that anytime another camera is watching the events it will show things from that perspective as well rather it’s another character with a camera, a news helicopter or even security cameras. The dumbest of all was a blond classmate of the trio that has a video blog and also films everything including just answering a knock at her door.
I’m guilty of being an audience member that was expecting and hoping for a little more than I got. As it is I feel like CHRONICLE was a very good time at the movies but is missing that jaw dropping wow factor that would have made my brain explode. The film has mystery, off and on spectacle, intriguing character drama and even a little comedy. The amount of buildup emphasizes the finale but the tender open ended final scene works great with the character dynamics but feels a little transparent to set up a possible sequel. Overall, I showed up for crazy teenage superhuman carnage but stayed for the compelling and imaginative story but still left wanting a little more carnage.