"What does seriously mean?"
It’s not an easy feat to take prevalent Hollywood tropes and make them fresh, unique, and exciting, but director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis—son of John—somehow found a way in their feature length debut Chronicle. Utilizing the in-fashion idea of regular kids discovering superpowers—see “Heroes”,“Misfits”, Push, or even X-Men: First Class—and placing it inside the found footage genre, these young filmmakers are able to keep things both comically relevant and darkly tragic at the same time. When watching the trailer, you may assume this will be another lame idea orchestrated as though the newest CW show of high school hormones wreaking havoc before cooler heads prevail. You’d be completely wrong.
Nothing we become privy to during the course of the movie is shown without a distinct purpose inside the construct of the whole. Opening on Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) as he sets up a brand new videocamera to document his day-to-day life, we’re exposed to the household dynamic of his troubled youth straight away. With door locked and our sight line through the lens of the camcorder, we watch the full-length mirror shake under his father Richard’s (Michael Kelly) angry fist outside. An abusive alcoholic, his desire to enter that room is tempered only by the boy’s threats of exposure while the family’s matriarch lays dying in the next room from illness as the undeserving cause of their rift with money tight and tempers flaring. Andrew is the super smart nerd bred from physical and mental turmoil we’ve seen in comic books time and time again—one step from being victim or villain.
We become introduced to the other two seniors soon tethered together by a supernatural bond never explained through Andrew. Using his camera to disconnect his anguish and take a step back to view the sheep surrounding him with a rightfully judgmental and untrusting eye, we discover his plight of unpopularity. Only cousin Matt (Alex Russell)—a philosophizing regurgitator of pithy thoughts spoken for seemingly no reason other than to hear himself speak—shows any interest in wanting to be a friend. Possessed of the physique and attitude to rule their high school, Matt is an enigma appearing to float through cliques and walk alone as a creature surveying what’s below. It’s this omnipresent ability to transcend social hierarchy that allows him to be Andrew’s facilitator in meeting new people at a party the non-drinking, friendless kid would never think of attending otherwise.
It’s here where Chronicle becomes more than just another teen drama rife with angst-fueled bouts of petty self-loathing. A strange cavernous hole hidden in the woods behind the abandoned warehouse now populated by ravers and pulsating music draws in Matt and Class President candidate Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) with the help of obvious recreational drug use. Having only seen Steve in poster form, plastered about the kids’ school, watching him pop up out of nowhere is just as confusing to we the audience as Andrew sitting alone and hearing his name called by the Senior Class king. Following more from the curiosity of why his cousin was hanging with Steve than what’s made them so excited, the trio find themselves entering the earth to discover the unbelievable. And all the while the camera chronicles each step as intrigue moves to fear with a trickle of blood from a nose.
From this point on the film really should be seen in its carefully paced unraveling of power struggle and hubristic rage without too much beforehand knowledge. Landis and Trank continuously drive the plot forward as the boys hone their telekinesis and learn to understand how limitless the possibilities are. Andrew transforms into a happy kid with friends bonded now for life, Matt finds their capacity to pull pranks as the first step towards using his abilities for good, and Steve gets lost inside the sea of infinite promise, shirking the responsibilities of his old life to run wild in an unrelenting adrenaline rush. The opportunity for anger to fuel their actions seeps in early, but youthful exuberance and the innocence of childhood rein them in to be better than their baser urges. Being teenage boys, however, their capability to keep emotions in check will not last forever.
A fast-paced journey of corruption, these boys quickly find that their powers only enhance what’s already formed within. No matter how hard Matt and Steve try to reach Andrew, the pressures of a broken home and the ridicule of bullies will never disappear. Now able to fight this injustice, Chronicle fearlessly depicts Andrew’s slow descent into hell as anger and vengeance consumes the bright soul once seen behind the tear-streaked eyes of his misunderstood and helpless child whereas most work of this ilk would have stuck to easy morality lessons impossibly clichéd for the dystopia we live in. The stunning special effects increase in their severity as well once the boys dig deeper inside themselves to find a dormant rage able to achieve the impossible. Heroes and villains are created not by the powers themselves but by the men wielding their gifts. A path towards good or evil must be chosen.
The film cultivates a successful aesthetic never shying from the dark abyss of hopelessness it inevitably must become. Russell is affable, pure of heart, and forever optimistic—a role far-removed from the hothead jock he played in an interesting Australian film, Wasted on the Young — and Jordan excels at the charismatic, sensitive type flying high yet still able to show compassion when real life interrupts the fun. But it’s DeHaan who shines as his pushed around introvert morphs into an antagonistic force of pent up malice for a world of insecure oppressors unable to comprehend the complexity of what’s transpired. Watching him throw a city block’s worth of people and objects with a wave of his hand is believable both by his cold eyes and the seamless computer effects at work. Never better than when he looks blankly into the camera as it floats above like a fly objectively watching, Chronicle delivers on its sci-fi premise and refuses to pander to expectations.