With its found-footage aesthetic and regular-guys-get-super-powers plot, Chronicle will rightly be compared to Cloverfield or perhaps the TV show Heroes. But the film it really has the most in common with is Carrie.
As in Brian De Palma’s horror classic, our teen hero is a ticking time bomb, with a very dangerous weapon at his disposal. And like Carrie, we care about him more than we should and maybe even want to see him exact revenge on his tormenters—until we, well, don’t.
Then again, to call Chronicle a horror film isn’t quite right either. It’s a genre-mashup extraordinaire—seriously funny at times and exciting, too. For a little bit, it plays like a fantasy wish fulfillment picture—what if three regular high school kids found some sort of crazy radioactive cave (never explained, not that it matters) and emerged with super powers? What if they could control objects with their minds and then even fly? How cool would that be? (Cue Beavis and Butthead laugh.)
One of the things I loved about Chronicle is the fact that these guys have no actual clue what to do with their powers—in other words, they don’t immediately decide to don tights and fight crime. Should they look up girls’ skirts? Freak out little kids in a toy store? Play football amongst the clouds?
It’s Andrew (excellent Dane DeHaan) who first uses his powers recklessly. The boys are being tailgated by a redneck type in a truck and Andrew conjures telekinesis to swerve him off the road. The trucker ends up with minor injuries, but it could’ve been a hell of a lot worse. It’s then that Andrew’s cousin, the smart and well-adjusted Matt (Alex Russell), makes a pact: No more using their powers on other people. As if.
You see, Andrew is not exactly a happy-go-lucky type. His mother is dying of cancer and his father is an abusive drunk. He’s always suspected that Matt only hangs out with him out of familial obligation/pity—and he knows for sure that the über popular Steve (Friday Night Light’s Michael B. Jordan) wouldn’t give him the time of day if they didn’t share such a big secret. Basically, you want to give Andrew a hug and say, “It gets better.” Alas.
The triumph of Chronicle is that it's not just a Jack of all genres but a master at some, too. I have to give credit across the board, not just to the appealing young cast, but to screenwriter Max Landis, who perfectly captures teen speak without ever seeming to try too hard, and director Josh Trank, who does wonders with the found footage perspective (much of the film really does play like some viral video you’ve stumbled across on YouTube). The best and most important thing about Chronicle is that it never loses sight of its characters. In the end, it’s characters who make any film—of any genre—memorable, and we root for Andrew to use his powers for good even as we grimly suspect that it might all end in tears and screaming and blood.