Film: Chronicle

I went into Chronicle (2012) with little foreknowledge and no expectations, and I definitely recommend that approach. If you’re even remotely interested in the film, stop reading this, avoid reviews, and add it to your list. The movie works best through surprise, humor, and unusual technique, a classic superhero origin story given an unconventional found-footage spin. I went in blindly and came out a fan.

Chronicle opens as a personal film project for Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a disaffected teenager whose life is pretty bleak: his mother is ill, his father is abusive, and his social life is nonexistent. Andrew buys an old video camera and starts documenting his daily life. When his friend Matt (Alex Russell) talks him into coming to a party out in the middle of nowhere, Andrew reluctantly tags along, camera in tow. There he’s recruited, by popular class president candidate Steve (Michael B. Jordan), to film a weird hole in the ground he and Matt have found. The three boys investigate, with miraculous results: they come out of the experience with telekinetic powers. Their hesitant early experimenting leads to a slowly growing mastery, but, well, with power comes responsibility.

Like most superhero origin stories, Chronicle is strongest in its earliest stages, as the world is set up, the character relationships are built, and the mysterious powers start to manifest — especially once the boys’ mischievous personalities start to inform the use of their new abilities. As the powers improve and the story unfolds, the magic and humor of the early-going is replaced by dark turns and epic action. The arc of the plot is pretty predictable, but the execution is adroit, and it all culminates in an emotionally charged final battle that’s worth getting invested in. The special effects are generally seamless, but even when they aren’t, the immersive immediacy of the film disguises its rougher edges. The found footage conceit breaks down a bit in the final act, but I was in a forgiving mood by then. An unexpectedly memorable and satisfying adventure.

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