Remember those scenes early in the first Spiderman movie, where Peter Parker discovers that he all of a sudden has these super powers and starts playing around to see what he can do? In spirit, if not in direct patrilineage, those scenes are the progenitors of Chronicle, about three high school seniors who gain telekinetic powers. As in the Marvel film, there is a clear progression of inquiry, from incident to experimentation to the broader question of what to do with these powers. Chronicle, though, is a more circumscribed, personal movie, if any movie about superpowers can be described as ‘personal.’
The most central of the three protagonists, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), is one of those socially inept high schoolers who has sort of slipped through the cracks. He’s a bit of an introvert, and we get the sense that he doesn’t have anything that he’s really good at; meanwhile, he lives with a dying mother and an abusive, embittered father. At the beginning of the movie, he begins filming everything that he does, and the narrative progresses in the found footage style that has been in vogue recently (Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, etc). By chance, he, his cousin Matt, and local popular kid Steve stumble on an unidentified, presumably alien, object, which they soon discover has given them the power to move objects with their minds.
The found footage gimmick is a little cumbersome, especially at the beginning of the movie, but you get used to it after a while – and Chronicle, by virtue of its telekinetic heroes, finds a way to cheat itself into a bit more leeway once the characters have begun playing with their new abilities. Though it raises some questions, the found footage technique also provides the film’s most sophisticated touches, as in one scene later in the film where Andrew, lying on his bed, gazes inscrutably, as if trying to look at himself, up at us as we float above him.
The movie’s biggest problem – as well, perhaps, as its most interesting element – is the disjointedness between the two halves. Most of the first part of Chronicle is about these kids reveling in the joy of their new abilities, and here, at least, the found-footage approach is frequently effective: you really feel like you’re seeing their delight as something captured rather than something staged. At some point, though, the movie veers off on a darker tangent, and it doesn’t quite all fit together. The plot points are all in place, but the characters haven’t quite been put together well enough to make what happens make sense. (I realize that that’s pretty ambiguous, but I can’t add much more without betraying what happens.) And, speaking more broadly, it’s frustrating to see writers and directors continue to bank on the imagined cultural memory of what high school is like.
All that said, I liked Chronicle quite a bit. Like last year’s Kick-Ass, it has at its core the idea of deconstructing the superhero myth, but it does so a lot more successfully because, unlike Kick-Ass, it doesn’t end up relying on that same myth for its dramatic payoff. Andrew, Matt, and Steve are just a bunch of kids – and, in what might be the movie’s greatest innovation, they don’t stop being kids just because they figure out how to fly.