Directed by: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw
While Chronicle turned out to be a lot better than its dopey trailer suggested, I have to admit I liked it a lot better when it had an R rating, was directed by Brian De Palma, and was called Carrie. Stripped of its found-footage approach and its modernized references to our society’s narcissistic view that one’s every move and thought is so endlessly fascinating as to be worthy of documenting, that’s what Chronicle comes down to. Just replace Sissy Spacek, William Katt and Amy Irving with Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan, give all three of them telekinetic powers—et voila.
Even so, the film is streets ahead of the usual found-footage rubbish—not in the least because it cheats pretty outrageously on that premise. Even before it starts playing fast-and-loose with the found-footage approach, it cleverly puts forward the idea of a chronic video shooter who both knows what a tripod is and can operate a camera without appearing to be suffering from the DT’s. (That’s a big step forward right there.) Later on, the film comes up with the notion that someone with telekinetic powers can float a camera just as well as a steadicam, or even a nice camera crane. It might be on the preposterous side, but it makes a welcome break for the usual jiggle-fest we’ve come to expect in these things. That the film is effectively lit is another plus.
The idea here is that three high-school kids—misfit Andrew (DeHaan), his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular-kid Steve (Michael B. Jordan)—find a mysterious hole in the ground. They explore it, and it somehow gives them superpowers. The film doesn’t even attempt to explain any of this, which is perhaps just as well, since any explanation would hardly be satisfactory. It just happens, and that’s enough. Essentially, it’s a superhero-origin yarn, but these boys are not exactly heroes. They’re simply kids, and they respond as kids might respond—trying out their new abilities for fun. Since none of them have apparently seen Carrie (if they had, they’d realize the potential for disaster here), it falls to Steve to look up what their abilities are (on his phone, of course).
The problem, if you can’t guess, is that Andrew—having spent years being overlooked, abused and bullied—is not the best person to have super powers at his disposal. This is naturally enough going to lead to Carrie-esque trouble, despite his two friends’ best intentions. Their attempts to help are undermined by Andrew’s father (Michael Kelly), who is roughly approximating Piper Laurie’s “They’re all going to laugh at you” schtick in Carrie. Mayhem and tragedy ensue—and it’s generally pretty effective, even if the plot has to suffer some hard-to-swallow contrivances to get where it’s going.
At no point does Chronicle cross the line into greatness, but it’s overall surprisingly good. Every so often, it even achieves a degree of visual creativity. The scene set in the clouds of a thunderstorm is remarkably striking, especially when you consider that the found-footage concept requires it to be accomplished in one unbroken take. There are also moments of surprising perception, though not perhaps as deep as some have suggested. I don’t exactly recommend the movie, but neither do I have anything much against it. Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking.