Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Teenage boy with an abusive dad and a sick mom. Lovelorn and lonely. Bullied and picked on at school. Full of rage and feeling very ineffectual.
And now he's got superpowers.
The beautiful thing about Chronicle is that it's the superhero origin story with which we've become so very familiar, in its purest form, stripped of all the pulp and camp. The work of writer-director Josh Trank and co-writer Max Landis, this is an "Oh my god, I'm suddenly a mutant!" tale as it might be if we had no legacy of X-Men or Superman. Or, it's how Carrie might have been had Stephen King taken his inspiration from them.
Carrie hangs very much in the air here. Is Andrew (Dane DeHaan) on his way to becoming not a superhero, but a supervillain? The film grants us his very intimate perspective on the world, and his being drawn to both good and evil. He's bought a video camera — "I'm filming everything," he warns that violent father — and the story is told mostly via Andrew's haphazard video diaries. It creates in us a persuasive sympathy: We feel all the slights and stings alongside him, potent since superhero tales have always appealed to our own feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness.
We fantasize about being powerful, about being magnanimous to those who've hurt us. We'll show them, we imagine, merely by suddenly being more powerful than our tormentors, yet not becoming a bully like them.
But not Andrew. He does some very unsettling things with his emerging powers. So suddenly, we're worried we're identifying with a budding Magneto.
But then again, Peter Parker was a bullied dork who didn't go to the dark side as Spider-Man. So Chronicle could go that way, too ...
One of the everythings that Andrew films is the weird discovery that his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and their schoolmate Steve (Michael B. Jordan) make in the woods. In a suspicious hole in the ground is a sorta crystalline thing. It whines, pulsates, and makes Andrew's camcorder go all wonky, then gives the boys nosebleeds, and then telekinetic abilities.
Maybe the thing is alien, but it doesn't matter. Chronicle isn't that kind of story. It's about the guys discovering how giddy with delight they can be at learning what extraordinary stuff they can suddenly do. There's nothing in the boys' new talents that we haven't seen before, and yet Trank makes us feel as exhilarated as they do. We haven't seen a superhero story as human as this.
Though there's humor in Chronicle, part of the realism comes from the removal of corniness. The film feels urgent in a real-world, real-consequences way, as we see Andrew tempted toward using his powers for the less-than-good and his friends trying to bring him back. The found-footage nature of the presentation lends it a unique credibility: Even as we know intellectually that we're looking at things that have absolutely been created with special effects, there's an authority to the visuals that comes from their casualness.
Chronicle makes us reconsider entirely the terms superhero and supervillain. No one here can be reduced to such black-and-white terms. They're just people doing the best they can with what they have. It's just that they suddenly have so much more than the rest of us.