You’ve found a bottomless pit with a glowing alien object buried deep inside. Interacting with it gives you and two friends telekinetic powers. Do you use it to stop crime, unveil a government conspiracy, battle an alien invasion or turn evil?
Hell no! In “Chronicle,” you use it to fly, pull pranks and lift up girls’ skirts. God knows finding out she’s wearing black panties is more of a mystery than an Area 51 cover up.
“Chronicle” is a clever, fun, intense and at times twisted take on a high school teen drama, and for that this “found footage” film surpasses all the cliché monster or horror movies that typically litter the genre.
When the film’s three male protagonists come across the aforementioned MacGuffin and develop telekinetic powers, it becomes a vehicle for teenagers to goof around in a dangerous new toy box the way they might a car, firecrackers or anything else while stupidly putting it all on camera.
The movie skips the reaction time when the characters realize “OMG we have superpowers” and jumps right to the part where they put it on tape and proceed to embarrass themselves. Rightly so, much of “Chronicle” plays less like “Cloverfield” and more like “Tosh.0,” with teenagers face planting or scaring little girls with teddy bears as they experiment with their powers.
And what makes it so consistently interesting is that its not just amusing filler before the entire world collides. “Chronicle” ignores the possibility there might be an alien secret or government conspiracy and zooms in on the down to Earth problems of its conflicted teenagers.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is the kid most struggling with high school life. His dad is an unemployed drunk, his mother is dying, and carrying around a camera at school doesn’t score him points with teenage douchebags. Rather than give him an inflated hubris, Andrew’s superpowers give him the relatable human conflicts of who are really his friends as he uses them around his fellow telekinetic buddies.
This also serves the film well by not forcing it to continually top itself with increasingly lavish special effects. Screenwriter Max Landis finds clever applications of the telekinetic powers, including a sneaky talent show, a game of beer pong and levitating the camera to find an excuse to get steady aerial shots.
But when the film does explode into its epic, CGI driven climax, the Andrew character carries with him enough weight and depth for this to not just be a super villain exacting justice or revenge. Andrew’s outburst resembles the same twisted psychosis that might’ve led a teen under normal circumstances to commit something like a Columbine massacre.
“Chronicle” does genuinely surprise and amaze for a mainstream February release. It finds a purpose for its handheld visual style, a twist on a familiar genre story and a way to entertain and impress with more than a few telekinetic tricks.