A film review by Craig J. Koban February 8, 2012


2012, R, 83 mins.


Andrew: Dane DeHaan / Matt: Alex Russell / Steve: Michael B. Jordan / Casey: Ashley Hinshaw

Directed by Josh Trank / Written by Max Landis

Every once in a blue moon there are films that manage to break through the lethargy of the genre they’re occupying and are able to subvert its increasingly stale and repetitive conventions.  Josh Trank’s – making a stellar directorial debut - CHRONICLE is just one of those diamond-in-the-rough efforts that manages to take the more obligatory elements of the found-footage, sci-fi, and super-hero origin films and audaciously injects some much needed revitalizing freshness into them.  We have seen endless numbers of found-footage films during the last decade-plus, but CHRONICLE intriguingly employs genre gimmicks while gleefully and shrewdly transcending them.   

Imagine the loose documentary look and feel of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT mixed with a twisted super-hero film, a teen-angst melodrama, and a CARRIE-styled tale of adolescent revenge and you’ll kind of get the basic idea behind CHRONICLE.  Initially, though, the film begins modestly and fairly unassumingly: We are introduced to Andrew (Dane DeHaan, looking remarkably at times like a WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE-era Leonardo DiCaprio) that is a socially ostracized and friendless high school student that is bullied and beaten by his disability-collecting, alcoholic father (Michael Kelly) and is troubled by his mother’s (Bo Peterson) escalating cancer, which could take her life on any given day.  To better cope with his hellish home and school life, Andrew decides to buy a video camera to chronicle his life at its most unnerving, bizarre, and mostly mundane. 

Andrew does have one confidant, so to speak, in the form of his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), but there has always been a rift between them, mostly because Matt has found himself placed within the “it” popular crowd at school – which Andrew has never been able to eek his way into – but mostly because Matt finds his cousin to be unstable and hot-tempered.  Matt is a close buddy with one of the most popular boys in school, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), which frustrates Andrew to no end.  Steve seems to be on a path of scholastic and social greatness, whereas the geeky and introverted Andrew seems destined for obscurity and misery. 

One night changes everything for the trio: While attending a local rave party Steve tries to befriend Andrew after he has a hostile encounter with a bully.  He tells the teary-eyed Andrew that he and Matt have found “something” that needs to be filmed.  Andrew begrudgingly follows Steve and when the two meet up with Matt they come to a strange, symmetrical hole in the ground that is emanating an eerie, low-rumbling noise.  The teens decide to go down into the hole to investigate the dark caverns that seem to be channeled through the earth by something not of this Earth.  They finally come to a large, crystal-like structure.  They touch the piercingly bright glowing object...and then their noses start bleed, gravity plays some odd tricks, and the alien substance turns a brilliant shade of red to the point where it blacks out Andrew’s camera. 

In the following weeks the boys miraculously find themselves…changing.  Initially, there are able to move small objects – like rocks, baseballs, and Legos – with their minds.  Andrew seems to be developing his new-fangled abilities quicker than his new BFF’s, mostly because he’s pushing himself harder (he postulates that using and developing telekinesis is no different than flexing and working out your muscles).  Part of the pleasure of the screenplay (provided by twenty-something Max Landis, son of John) is how well it grounds its fantastical storyline with these characters.  Andrew, Matt, and Steve behave less as movie teen characters that lazily propel the story from point A to B and rather as engagingly realistic adolescents that behave as any normal young man would when granted extraordinary abilities.  



The film has ample fun showing these ordinary guys using their powers for the sake of having a swell time.  For instance, they decide to make innocuously entertaining usage of their gifts at a super market to make carts run on their own or, in one nifty case, mentally move a recently parked car to a new location, leaving the returning owner befuddled.  However, it soon becomes apparent that their powers are approaching God-like levels: they become nearly invulnerable (sharp metal objects, like forks, barely make a scratch on them during one experiment) and they soon are able to fly through the heavens (they throw and kick a football to one another thousands of feet above ground, while nearly being killed by a jumbo jet).  Matt and Steve begin to realize that beyond amusing themselves and scoring popularity points with schoolmates, they must keep their powers in check and never let personal hubris get in the way.  Unfortunately, the deeply troubled Andrew has other ideas. 

Again, part of what works so engagingly well in CHRONICLE is how it develops the teen personas.  This is especially true with Andrew, and even though it comes as no real surprise that it is the outcast of the group that flirts with ultimate power and unavoidably goes to the “dark side”, his tragic arc from a misunderstood and abused misfit to an all-powerful, rage and vengeance-filled deity is both riveting and chillingly disturbing.  He begins to misuse his abilities to cause harm to small creatures (like an unsettling moment where he levitates a spider and rips it into dozens of tiny pieces), which then materializes into larger and more personal targets.  By the time the film careens to it’s all-hell-breaks-loose climax, Andrew has become an unthinkably indestructible force that not only wants swiftly violent comeuppance on his father, but on the cruel world around him.

CHRONICLE’s novel handling of its found-footage aesthetic is noteworthy.  It begins with the typical shaky cam, you-are-there feel of a boy shooting everything around him with a camera, but then as Andrews’s powers mature he is able to levitate the camera, which in turns allows Trank to use steady cams, dolly shots, and cranes to make CHRONICLE’s visuals become more seamless and fluid as the kids’ powers develop.  Trank also gets incredible mileage out of employing lively, immersive, and state-of-the art CGI effects on a bargain-bin $15 million dollar budget to create a sense of startling immediacy and veracity in the film.  Whether it be showing the boys levitating Pringles into their mouths or soaring through the clouds or telepathically swashing through a squadron of Swat Team members as easily as we could skip a rock through a river bed, CHRONICLE is miraculously ambitious and finds innovation with the scope of its visual effects during a time when too many recent films languidly use them eye-catchy filler. 

There is one weakness to the film.  There never seems to be a compelling rationale as to why Andrew is documenting himself and his friends in front of his camera, other than him simply explaining that he constantly wants to from the very beginning; this never feels like a believable explanation (found footage films always have managed to have a tangible reason for their footage to exists, not so much here, though).  Trank and Landis help fill in the logic loopholes here by having one of Matt’s hopeful girlfriends (Ashley Henshaw) as a camera-loving hipster that shoots ample footage as well, and later in the film surveillance, cell phone, and TV news cam footage is utilized to create a more uniform whole.  Despite minor quibbles, CHRONICLE is nonetheless a stunning dazzler that’s appeared almost out of thin air on the filmscape; it uses an uncommonly decent young cast, intelligent script, and ample directorial creativity to envision a genre effort that’s superficially familiar, but wholly distinctive on its own. 

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