Imagine you had near-limitless mental powers. C’mon now, you’ve dreamt of being able to crush your foes, assemble things, or even fly… all with a mere thought. But what if someone you knew and respected began to use them for nefarious purposes? Such is the dilemma that Steve and Matt face when the latter’s depressed cousin, Andrew, begins to use his new-found powers of telekinesis in terrible ways.
This most recent rash of found-footage films has come off as mostly vile; just complete garbage. In the wake of barnstormer Paranormal Activity, studios have used the genre to conjure piles of dreck to theaters because they’re incredibly easy to produce and require little overhead. But Chronicle isn’t a wonderful trip because its budget dwarfs many of those other films (clocking in at a still-miniscule $15m), it’s because of the resourcefulness of its makers, who rely on practical effects as much as possible. After the trio encounter a strange alien-something deep in a hole in the woods beyond a rave, they gain telekinesis. In a masterful portrayal, their powers start small and un-concentrated as they build LEGO towers, but grow to the point where they’re playing football thirty-thousand feet in the air. The whole thing is captured through a variety of (similarly high-quality) cameras, from phones to Andrew’s high-end gear. As Andrew learns to let the camera float, the film ingeniously excuses the use of crane shots. It’s a small effect, but a clever way to fall out of the trap of shaky-cam footage (thankfully, Chronicle keeps it stable for the most part).
While the childhood daydream is well-executed, the film sags a bit in the drama department. Andrew’s home life is a wreck, but his abusive father and sickly mother don’t seem compelling enough a reason for his turn to the dark side when he’s a genuine nice guy throughout the film. This leaves the last act, although incredibly executed, set apart from the rest in tone. Still, Chronicle shows incredible promise for director John Trank and writer Max Landis (son of legendary writer/director John Landis), who are first-timers, both still shy of thirty. The film is easily one of the freshest experiments in pop cinema in years and should be lauded for it. You need to check it out. (Also, an M83 song runs over the closing title cards, so that’s awesome.)