Before I’d even seen this movie, I’d seen enough previews for it that I’d planned the review in my head. I was going to draw a comic which had three stick figures and went something like: THREE GUYS HAVE A WEIRD THING HAPPEN (picture of figures next to whatever gave them powers), GET POWERS (picture of them freaking out, waving their little stick arms), EVERYTHING IS FUN (picture of them doing fun thing), OH NO IT ALL WENT HORRIBLY WRONG WHAT A SHOCK (picture of them all dead with crosses for eyes). And look, my prediction wasn’t far off, because I have been to movies more than three times in my life and I know how these things go. But instead of cursing you all with my awful drawing skills, I’m actually going to give this a proper review, because it deserves one.
Chronicle opens with high school senior Andrew (Dane DeHaan, appropriately sulky and gawky) setting up his new video camera to record his life: his physically abusive, alcoholic father; his dying mother, strapped to machines in her bed; his school life, where bullies torment him mercilessly and the only person who gives him any time is his philosophical-stoner cousin, Matt (Alex Russell). Andrew doesn’t do himself any favours by bringing a video camera to school and creeping everyone out—in fact, he’s generally unlikeable, but wholly sympathetic regardless—but it comes in handy when, at a warehouse party, he’s summoned by Matt and the school’s gosh-darn endearing Mr Popularity Steve (Michael B Jordan) to a strange hole in the ground. They go underground, the camera gets fuzzy, things are weird, then bam: they are back in the sunlight and suddenly the three of them have developed telekinetic powers. All right! Awesome! This could never go wrong!
The movie succeeds because the three do exactly what you (well, I) would do if you had telekinetic powers. There’s a nod to the Lego video game franchise as they build things with their mind; they skim rocks over rivers; they use a leaf blower to blow up the skirts of the pretty girls. (Hey, I didn’t say they were mature about it.) They start small as they learn to control their powers, and the three develop a close bond—but it doesn’t take long before a harmless prank gets dangerously close to a fatality and the three lay down some ground rules, including the most important: don’t use the powers when you’re angry. However, teenagers do angry really well, and when things go wrong, it happens on an epic scale.
The movie centres around Andrew, as the one with the camera, but all three characters feel convincing: they dress and act like normal people, are occasionally jerks and frequently humane. Matt’s squirm-worthy attempts to prove to a girl that he’s, like, cool, but, like, above being like popular and stuff are painfully endearing; Steve’s determination to be a good politician see him take on Andrew as a challenge, where they use their powers to gain him popularity in the most wholesome way possible. Even Andrew’s jerk of a father has some depth: you hate him, but you have some understanding of him. This, all told in what is essentially a found-footage film (though both Chris and I had thought of the phrase “lost-footage”, as the movie uses footage from cameras that are destroyed, CCTV footage, people’s iPads and so on) is very impressive; it even dodges the problem of Andrew never being on camera when he gets the idea to control it with his mind so it is always looking at the scene from a short distance. The special effects are faultless, which makes the movie’s many tricks—small or large—great fun. The boys never break from character, and Chronicle tracks in an hour and a half the path to villainy that George Lucas barely achieved in the first (second?) three Star Wars movies.
Chronicle doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test—there are women, but they never talk to each other—and you do occasionally want to take Andrew by the ear and get him to the counsellor’s office for a thorough discussion about emotional control and dealing with turmoil at home (and finding somewhere new to live—or a way to get his father in jail.) But on the whole, Chronicle is a surprisingly excellent film that doesn’t bother too much with the why of getting superpowers (because really, who cares?) as much as what kind of person you are, and how you deal with them when you have them.
I give it four out of five car rides to school.