directed by Josh Trank
(20th Century Fox, 2012)

There's a moment with a spider -- even more so than the much-hyped trailer scene with the redneck in the truck -- that lets audiences know beyond any doubt that Andrew's newfound powers have been sown in troubled soil.

Chronicle is a disturbing film, even though it seems at first to be something more along the lines of Dawson's Creek meets Spider-Man by way of Cloverfield and Heroes.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a high-school school outcast, teased by his classmates and carrying heavy burdens (a terminally ill mother, a drunk and abusive father) from home. Andrew has recently purchased a video camera and is documenting the minutia of his life as a means, I suppose, of coping with his constant sorrow. Matt (Alex Russell) is Andrew's cousin and only friend. When the two attend a party, they meet up with Matt's friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a popular class president-wannabe, and together they discover a strange hole in the ground in the nearby woods. Of course they go in, and the strangely glowing, possibly living, crystalline object they find inside imbues them with telekinetic powers that get stronger the more they use them.

What starts as games with baseballs and Legos develops into boyish pranks and, yes, even flight. The ethics of using their powers never even comes into question -- until one impetuous act goes too far.

And once it goes one step too far, it quickly goes further, and further still.

There's no question that Andrew's moral compass is off-kilter, skewed by years of abuse and a life that, admittedly, would have most people grasping for the least bit of control. The question is, just how dangerous can one super-powered teenager really be?

Pretty freakin' dangerous. Trust me, you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

The film is presented as a series of film clips, mostly collected by Andrew as he documents his own life. Other pieces come from security cameras, traffic cams, the cell phones of passersby and Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), another student who obsessively videotapes everything for her blog. Fortunately for this film, it features two people who are both camera fanatics -- and neither of whom will let go of the camera no matter what happens to them (even if they're falling out of the sky or toppling inside a VW Bug from the top of Seattle's Space Needle). It's a gimmick, yes, but it works very well here.

The story could easily slip into cheesy goodness, but first-time director Josh Trank keeps a confident rein over the action as it develops. And it develops quickly; the movie is laconic in its buildup, then steamrolls along at a breakneck pace. The young cast of largely unknown actors does a great job with the material, never making unbelievable events seem unbelievable.

Chronicle is not a superhero movie. It's a very human story about pretty average teens ... until something extraordinary changes their lives. But, all the special effects aside, it's less about their amazing powers than it is about people, and the ways in which they handle the events that enfold them. It is, by the end, quite tense, a little scary and very surprising. It's an amazing package that you'll want to see at least once.

review by
Tom Knapp

18 February 2012

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