By Jie Jenny Zou
Chronicle, a film centering on a group of three teenage boys who mysteriously gain telekinetic powers after a high school party, is an indie-style film with blockbuster aspirations and the big budget marketing to boot.
Released on Friday, Chronicle opened to a better than expected audience overshooting its projections with $22 million in box office revenue – not at all bad considering the film was made on a $12 million budget. Comparatively, 2008’s Cloverfield, a similar sci-fi thriller employing a similar shaky-camera-footage-style and hi-tech special effects (but not nearly as well-received), had a budget of $25 million.
I’ll be the first to admit that I initially found the whole premise and trailer to be rather generic and uninspired. Another superhero film, really? As if the movie industry needs another movie where an average Joe becomes yet another average superhero. But wait! Chronicle transcends the typical mindless, action-packed hullabaloo with a well-written script and an atypical storytelling device.
For one, the plot unfurls from the perspective of the main character, Andrew Detmer, played by silver-screen newcomer Dane DeHaan (with previous stints in HBO’s True Blood). DeHaan’s Andrew is immediately dark and downright emo, and understandably so. Within the first ten minutes of the film, viewers gather that Andrew is troubled and socially awkward, as his drunken father bangs on his bedroom door and his dying mother lies in bed in the next room.
The story is told from Andrew’s shaky, amateur camera after his character decides (albeit not with much explanation) to begin recording his everyday life down to his awkward high school interactions and his piercing glare as he stares at himself in his bedroom mirror. It’s the kind of creepy, uninhibited rawness that gives DeHaan’s Andrew an uneasy realness. As a viewer, you can already see Andrew going astray—a caricature of a troubled adolescent, not unlike those who have made real national headlines in recent years.
But his life gets an extra dose of interesting when he attends a high school party with his cousin, Matt Garetty, played by the underutilized and also newbie actor, Alex Russell. If Andrew is the superhero boy gone bad, then Matt is his foil, serving as the film’s ethical center—the kid who gets the power but decides to use it for good. It’s not nearly as sexy a concept as the kid who goes horribly, horribly bad, but Russell is compelling. Why does he remain ‘good?’ Why is he the first among the three to set ground rules for how to use the powers? The script and Russell give enough to invest you in the character, but doesn’t pull through. I walked away wanting to know more about Russell and what made him tick.
The third character is popular high school jock Steve Montgomery, played by Michael B. Jordan (known best for Friday Night Lights, the series, and HBO’s The Wire). Steve serves as the comic relief for Andrew’s bleak world view. He’s a lovable guy, the one who is genuinely nice, popular, and yes, kind of does have it all, but takes it all in stride.
Steve, along with the other two, forge an unlikely friendship as they experiment with their burgeoning powers, which incite both wonder and fear in all three. This film is equal parts action, sci-fi, and a meditation on human nature.
The second half of the film becomes the intense action-packed glory you’d expect from the marketing, but the first half for me was the most interesting. The effects used in the first half are decidedly low-fi, but the first half hinges on the growing friendship between the three with themes of adolescent loneliness coupled with discovery.
As the first major feature debut for director Joshua Trank and up-and-coming screenwriter Max Landis, Chronicle is an enjoyable first effort that ranks high among the superhero-themes films I’ve seen in recent years that will surprise you with its depth and clean simplicity, but won’t disappoint in delivering the action that’s promised.