Millennials are obsessed with capturing their lives online. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. Most people are boring enough that their compulsive documentation is really unnecessary. The story of “Chronicle” is the exception.
Loner Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), his cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) and class star Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) are three high school students who stumble upon a glowing crystal-like object in the woods during a party at an abandoned warehouse. In the days that follow they realize they’ve acquired some a telekinetic power to control objects.
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It’s not unlike the Force – something that first-time feature director Josh Trank dabbled with in his experimental short, “Stabbing at Leia’s 22nd Birthday.” But as their powers grow from moving a few Legos to crushing cars and flying, Detmer begins to change and lash out. When Garetty and Montgomery try to help, he only grows more violent. His downward spiral leads to an action-packed climax pitting friends and powers against each other.
For a “found footage” hand-held film, the movie has some great shots. It fits into the story – as his powers increase, Detmer uses part of his mind to control the camera, so all three young men appear in shots together. It’s a neat choice, and lets Trank be artistic in a movie that’s supposed to look amateurish. The story, by Trank and screenwriter Max Landis, has the depth and structure that films made by much older professionals often lack.
From well-placed and thought-provoking bits of philosophy that color Garetty’s personality and reveal Detmer’s evolving views about himself, to hilarious dialogue and situational humor mostly from Montgomery, the story captures both the emotional tale of a boy pushed too far along with the joyous escapades of newly-created supermen without letting either part overwhelm the other. The film starts and ends a little awkwardly, but it’s because in both situations teenage boys are trying to express heavy emotion while dialoguing with a camera. In all honesty they shouldn’t be comfortable in that scenario.
The characters are types, but not stereotypes. DeHaan’s Andrew Detmer is an awkward, anti-social, scrawny teen, with hauntingly troubled eyes. The character is colored by his mother’s sickness and unemployed alcoholic father’s abuse, and compounded by bullies in his
neighborhood and at school. With pressures from all around him, he has only himself, and his camera. At first it’s a barrier, shielding him and serving as a lens through which to filter harsh realities. As his confidence grows with his power filming becomes an art form through which to
channel his new-found ability.
But when he embarrasses himself at a party, the old self – filled with loathing for the world around him – menacingly resurfaces. And the camera is there every step of the way. He comes to worship himself, and see himself as a god among expendables. “A lion doesn’t feel guilty when it kills a gazelle,” Detmer tells the camera. “You don’t feel guilty when you squash a fly. And I think that means something.” Then the bullied becomes the bully. It’s a complete transformation, both satisfying and saddening to witness.
As Garetty, Russell gives a great performance as a senior who feigns disinterest in the “cool” parties and activities of high school to cover his own insecurities. There’s a lack of certainty to him underneath the bored façade that reveals itself through his late-blossoming power; he’s the
last to figure out how to fly for a reason. It shows someone whose confidence is an act, someone who is trying to find himself in the world.
Jordan’s Steve Montgomery is the high school star, effortlessly cool and a genuinely nice guy. Jordan, from “Friday Night Lights,” is a leading man, and his vibrant performance helps the film settle into itself. When he’s on screen, the other characters become teens and find
their powers as exciting as they really are.
What sets “Chronicle” apart from other found footage movies I’ve seen is the climactic battle – two teen supermen smashing each other through buildings in downtown Seattle. Trank splices footage from different hand-held cameras, traffic cameras, security cameras and police cameras
to create the multiple views that make up the showdown between Detmer and Garetty. Aside from the audio disparity between shots – a chopper’s camera contains background police band chatter, while a security camera contains no sound at all –Trank’s climactic fight is both enjoyable to watch and fun to analyze.
For that alone, this narrative is worth watching.