REVIEW: “Chronicle”

“Chronicle” is another one of those “look what I’ve captured on my hand-held video camera” movies but with a super-powered twist. It takes elements from a wide range of movies from “Hancock” to “Paranormal Activity” and everything in between then mixes them together to form a slightly unique but overall predictable 80 minute package. “Chronicle” does spark some interest early in the film as it takes a different look at the concept of superhuman powers. There are some genuine moments of humor and a wild ending filled with special effects that undoubtedly ate up most of the $15 million budget. But it doesn’t take long to figure most things out and the stereotypical, run-of-the-mill teenaged characters started to lose interest.

The story begins with Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a teenager who is somewhat of a closed off social pariah. He doesn’t have many friends, has a mother who is dying of cancer, and an abusive alcoholic for a father. He just randomly decides to start filming everything in his life with a newly purchased video camera. This develops the perspective that we the audience have throughout the picture. Andrew is convinced to go to a party by his “friend” and cousin Matt (Alex Russell). Matt has enough of a bond with Andrew to want to see him come out of his anti-social bubble, but he’s not enough of a friend to spend time with him at the party. Andrew is approached at the party by Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a popular jock and aspiring politician. Steve has been sent by Matt to find Andrew and bring him and his camera to a weird crater found in the woods. The three boys do some ill-advised exploring and stumble across something not of this planet which gives them super-powers.

The majority of the picture focuses on the three teens and their developing powers. They determine that their powers “works like a muscle” and they can tell they are getting stronger the more they use them. This leads to the obvious “we need a set of rules” (think Spider-man’s “with great power comes great responsibility”). They begin developing their own ideas about how to use their new abilities which leads to several disagreements and eventually bigger problems. You’ll see it all coming well before the ending, but that’s not to say there aren’t some good scenes in the build-up. There were some fun moments just watching the teens act like kids with a new super-powered toy. They responded exactly how you would expect them to – silly, playful, immature, and irresponsible. But they also fall into some of the overused and uninteresting teen movie stereotypes that I found disappointing.

The idea to show this from the perspective of a video camera worked for a time but after a while I was feeling that I had seen this all before. It wasn’t fresh or innovative. And in the third act of the film, the video camera perspective seems to just drop for a few shots then come back. Not sure if it was an oversight, but I found myself trying to figure out which camera perspective I was seeing before eventually saying “forget it”. But the ending action sequence is wild and quite impressive. Downtown Seattle is the location for  the massive explosions, flipping cars, and shattered skyscrapers. It’s so good that it almost makes up for the film’s earlier problems.

“Chronicle” was built off of a good idea, but its one thread of originality isn’t enough to support the entire film. First time director and co-writer Josh Trank does some interesting things with his camera, but it’s mostly lost by his decision to use the hand-held perspective and video documentary approach, an approach that’s been done many times before. There are some good lines in the picture and the final action sequence is fantastic. It’s just a shame that this “fresh” look at super-powers features so many things we’ve seen before.