★★★★ / ★★★★
With a terminally ill mother (Bo Petersen) and a drunkard of a father (Michael Kelly), Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is far from a happy teenager. To everyone’s surprise, Andrew decides to buy a video camera and begins to film the ordinariness of his life, from the bullying he endures in and out of school to the moments when he feels open enough to reveal his secret insecurities to his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell). From looking at his bright eyes, weighed down by darkening eye bags, we can surmise that maybe he decides to record so that he can later watch the footages and find some sort of reassurance that his life is worth living. While at a rave, Matt and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a popular jock, invite Andrew to an underground cave. Inside houses a structure that emanates strange lights and sounds. The next couple of weeks, they begin to exhibit powers starting with psychokinesis.
“Chronicle,” based on the screenplay by Max Landis, takes advantage of the found footage sub-genre, so often used as a disappointing gimmick, by telling a rather surprisingly moving story of a young man who has grown so tired of being pushed around. What if one day that person gets enough power to fight back?
One of the reasons why I enjoyed the picture so much is, especially during its early scenes, its consistency in quickly turning events from somewhat harmless fun to life-threatening. For instance, eventually discovering that they are able to will their body to levitate, the trio decide to play catch amongst the clouds. Suddenly, the peaceful game turns deadly when a plane in full speed reveals itself from an awkward angle. The initially relatively stable camera, controlled by Andrew’s mind as it hovers over and around them, goes through appropriate convulsions once panic sets in.
As much as it is very amusing to watch the guys discover and experiment their newfangled abilities, the more interesting moments involve Andrew talking about how he feels so lonely sometimes. I must admit that I began to get a bit teary-eyed because I found myself able to relate to the essence of his loneliness. As hard as he tries to fit in during social gatherings, he just has a sensitive personality which often leads to disappointments and other emotional disasters. It is obvious that he is grateful of the powers because the experiences bind them as soldiers do when in battle.
Prior to their trip to the cave, Andrew is not really close to Matt even though they are cousins. And Andrew certainly is not a part of Steve’s social circle. Steve’s friends–including himself, at least initially–mostly see Andrew as that loser who wears the same grey sweater every day to school. At one point, when Andrew confesses to Steve and Matt that he has just had the best day of his life, it does not feel like some cheap cliché. The line holds meaning to us because the camera captures the essence of their bond and it shows us the value of Andrew deciding to come out of his shell a little. I think that emotional honesty moved me so much because when he does terrible things later on, I was still able to root for and empathize with him.
Despite its very short running time, Andrew’s character arc feels complete and the denouements feel just right. Directed by Josh Trank, “Chronicle” could have used less scenes of Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) the blogger, Matt’s romantic interest, in order to make the final product even leaner. The romance brings nothing special to the film and I felt the momentum slow down each time they flirt in such a boring way. They are so cutesy around one another, I was just thankful there is not a “No, you hang up first!” scene. Still, the pathos of Andrew’s suffering is so strong, brilliantly played by DeHaan, everything else feels secondary.