Friday, February 10, 2012


The latest in the recent sub-genre of "found-footage" films, Chronicle is the story of three high school friends-- one an alienated depressant, the other an in-the-middle social climber, and a hot shot athlete running for student body president-- who through a mysterious sunken hole gain telekinetic powers.  The first half of the film is a surprisingly fun popcorn yarn, taking a premise not exactly the freshest, but tweaked by spry and inventive sense of control and a smooth flow, nicely dusting off the cobwebs of the whole faux-superhero movie, and the dingy, crappy looking veneer of expected Cloverfield rip-offs.  Director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of Jon Animal House Landis) also have a great sense of play with the good natured, boys-will-be-boys shenanigans, a loose sense of fun with the boys discoveries of their new-found powers and a crisp pace.  For a while, this silly film begs the question, "How in the hell is such obvious junk food done so well?"  Then, unfortunately, the slogging and confounding, not to mention bordering on that PG-13 rating type of violence, third act drags the fun and a weird uneven notion becomes clear that Chronicle wants to be more than it should.  Not just a pleasurable diversion, but a morality play on powers going overboard, and the darkness of fragile sensitive youth.

Set in Seattle, with the prime Pacific Northwest rain as it's background, we are introduced to Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an awkward young high school student who for purposes unknown or irrelevant has decided to carry around a video camera and record everything in his path.  Some things should probably have been kept more private, not just for Andrew's sake, but also the movie-- like his alcoholic father and his fits of physical abuse, and his at-her-deathbed mother, as well as his daily assaults from bullies inside and outside of school.  Whatever the case, he's taken under the wing of his only real friend, and cousin Matt (Alex Russell) to break through his moody shell and live a little.  Dragged to a party one night, Andrew and Matt, as well as jock Steve (Michael B. Jordan) stumble upon some crazy, mysterious sunken cavern in the middle of nowhere.  They enter the whatsit Twilight Zone-y portal and awaken with new found gifts.  Trank has stylish fun with film, using camera tricks and sound effects for optimal thrills, but it's all kind of inventive in an it's-far-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be sort of way.

The boys prank their classmates, innocent bystanders at local stores and there's a sort of gleeful child-like amusement in their exploits.  Yeah, they're kind of jerks, but it's all in a no one is getting hurt way...until someone does.  Andrew's a tad dark, and has trouble realizing the ramifications of his suddenly very potent powers-- he's also an unstable sad sack.  The film biggest weakness is that just as it becomes apparent that Andrew is going to dark side, he's already sort of lost any sympathy from his audience.  He's too grim and moody to start off, and the bad situation at home and constant bullying turn Chronicle into something it shouldn't be: heavy-handed.  The best sequences are such silly flights of fancy, not dark histrionic-filled.  Like the sequence where the boys literally take flight-- it's a joyful, over-the-top, theme park attraction that elicits a genuine sense of playful imagination.  Andrew turn into sociopathic, We Need to Talk About Kevin terrain feels a bit too much, as does the overly violent conclusion.  B-

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