The three teenage heroes of “Chronicle” are strangely drawn to the baffling hole in the woods. From deep within this crater comes eerie sounds, and the little light that gleams from it is unexplained. In neglect of the human instinct of self-preservation, the boys jump right in. It wouldn’t be unnatural to fear that these kids would end up injured, missing, or trapped, especially if you’ve seen too many episodes of Man vs. Wild. But what do you know? They not only survived their stunt, but also gained telekinetic superpowers as a result. Lucky bastards.
“Chronicle” adapts the idea of the Superhero Origin story and operates it within the immature and naive world of teenagers. The boys are grateful to have acquired their amazing abilities, but their nature doesn’t lead them to save lives and fight crime. Heck, they’re probably not even old enough to win a battle against their own hormones. The film’s first half gives a depiction on what would happen if astonishing powers where granted to immature beings. Shoppers at malls become victims of telekinetic practical jokes. Leaf blowers are mentally activated in front of pretty girls with short skirts. The scenarios are small-scale and simple-minded, but they’re also amusing and believable, and certainly more original and entertaining than most of the comic book movies of last year.
We are at an age where dozens and dozens of movies are sucked out of materials we’ve already encountered before. And in this pile of sequels, remakes, and rip-offs, we notice this elegant little film that can be distinguished by its desire to be different. “Chronicle” cleverly fuses three genres of distant qualities: the Superhero Origin, the High School Drama, and the Found Footage Narrative. This is a bold and risky artistic approach from director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis, knowing that this is their debut project in Hollywood. Some newcomers are often crammed with dreams and visions, while some run out of steam after a few good movies. (What in the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?) I think the movie has provided Trank and Landis with a good start the same way “The Sixth Sense” provided a good start for Shyamalan. My hope is that 20 years from now, “Chronicle” will only be seen as the stepping stone of their careers, and not as the highlight.
The same thing could be said for its leading actors, since “Chronicle” has provided them with their first major role in a widely distributed motion picture. That they didn’t choose a slasher film as a “Career Starter” is a great sign. Slasher flicks have become the go-to genre for young actors hoping to be “discovered” by bigger studios. A problem with this method is that its actors don’t have much space to shine. All you really have do is act stupid and be killed, like the doomed kids in the Final Destination movies. The three boys in “Chronicle” are real characters portrayed by actors whose plans for themselves exceed the thought of being sliced onscreen. Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan play Steve and Matt, two of three three boys who jumped into the hole. They are average students with normal lives, and can handle the weight of having superpowers.
The third kid is Andrew (Dan DeHann). His complicated life slowly darkens the film’s comical atmosphere. If we discard the superhero elements, we would be left with a concerned observation regarding teenage depression. The movie monitors how his isolated loneliness has boiled into suppressed anger. There are many kids like Andrew: abused and bullied, but chooses to keep it private. Fantasies of revenge run through their minds. This is harmless by itself, but all of this can translate into real danger once you give these kinds of people a power to fight back. When a furious Andrew discovers that his telekenisis can do more than just practical jokes, I became reminded of the troubled teens responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre.
Teenagers will have fun with the early scenes of telekinetic experiments, and if they pay closer attention, they might even learn to have a broader awareness of the people in their age group. I think the special effects were brought up to attract the movie’s target audience. How many teenagers would watch a quiet high school drama about isolated loneliness? Only a few, for sure. The rest would be busy looking for a good excuse to see the 5th, or 6th, Resident Evil movie.