It’s hard to make a fresh, interesting movie with a hackneyed, trite storyline like “troubled teen loser gains superpowers and has to face his own dark side.” Think of Peter Parker in ‘Spider-Man’, or David Rice in ‘Jumper’, or any of the kids in the X-Men movies or the TV series ‘Heroes’. Which is why it’s a surprise that ‘Chronicle‘ not only takes the same basic theme but ultimately does such a poor job with it.
The story follows perpetual loser Andrew (a sullen Dane DeHaan), who is bullied at his nightmarish high school, constantly beaten by his alcoholic ex-firefighter father (Michael Kelly), and has no friends or life. To create a psychological wall between himself and the world, Andrew picks up a fancy video camera — though how he affords it when the family has no income and are clearly quite poor is something that’s never explained — and decides to videotape everything that happens in his life.
This allows the filmmaker to tap into the rather tired “found footage” style: almost every scene is from either the point of view of Andrew’s camera, video blogger Casey (Ashley Hinshaw)’s camera or a surveillance camera that would ordinarily be on scene (a technique far better exploited in the creepy Mexican film ‘Caja Negra’).
Andrew has an inexplicably close relationship with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and is goaded into going to a party at an abandoned office complex, a party that, predictably, has hundreds of attractive teens dancing, waving around glow sticks, and drinking up a storm. He fares poorly, of course, and ends up outside, feeling sorry for himself. That’s when popular student body presidential candidate Steve (Michael B. Jordan) shows up and asks him to bring his camera to record a weird pit that Steve and Matt have discovered in the woods.
In that pit is a strange glowing crystalline structure that alters the three boys, giving them telekinetic powers, including the cliché nose bleed that comes with it. Is there some reason that every person who gains telekinesis has to get a bloody nose when they use the powers? It’s weirdly common in cinema. The scenes in the pit are the most effective in the film and hint at what Chronicle could have been with a bit more creativity.
The next thirty minutes are quite enjoyable, as the three boys learn the limits and capabilities of their power, including some amusing pranks (making a leaf blower turn on to blow up a girl’s skirt, animating a stuffed animal to frighten a young girl). Then the film loses its way as Andrew has one bad experience after another and withdraws into his own angry world. Except he now has these amazing telekinetic powers. That spells trouble and it’s up to his extraordinarily patient cousin Matt to calm him down.
I really wanted to like ‘Chronicle’, but between the unexpected use of “found footage” cinematic style, the completely inexplicable relationships between the boys — including completely glossing over why popular athlete Steve spends every day with Andrew and Matt rather than with his gorgeous girlfriend — and the crassly obvious “yup, we left it open for a sequel” ending added up to a disappointing film, one that felt more like a series of impressive special effects in search of a story than a well-thought-out teen angst movie.