After exploring a strange cavern in the bushland during a party, three high school friends Andrew (Dane deHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) gradually discover they've gained some extraordinary superpowers. They treat their new powers like new toys, playing with the ability to move objects as if telepathically, and exert powerful forces at will. But the withdrawn Andrew's dying mother (Bo Petersen) and drunken, aggressive father (Michael Kelly) provide fuel for Andrew's deep resentment, and he begins to use his new powers in anger.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A wish fulfilment sci-fi thriller like Chronicle is an ideal movie escape for 18 - 24 year olds who imagine the world would be a better place (for them) if they could do whatever they wanted. Although the film doesn't intend to carry any moralising message, it does end up showing the price of uncontrolled anger and resentment. It is symbolically these forces that propel Andrew to the dark side and even though we share his frustrations, we see there might be a better way to deal with life's troubles.
But all that is beside the main point, which is that the film's primary aim is to deliver an exciting and eye-popping sci-fi adventure through the eyes of three high school friends. Deliberately vague about how and why they acquire superpowers, the film rushes us from the unlikely scenario of their discovery to the fun they have playing with their new powers, like any teen would. These scenes pay off for the audience with their seamless effects.
In one inspired scene the shy and until now friendless Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is persuaded to enter the school talent quest, using his powers as if he was the world's greatest magician. He amazes his school and it follows that he is now the school's hottie, whisked away to lose his virginity by a redhead. The filmmakers stumble in the aftermath of this moment, with an unexplained ending to the sequence. It marks the beginning of Andrew's growing instability and his move away from his two friends towards the use of the dark side of his powers.
The film begins with Andrew setting up his new camera and filming everything (making a chronicle ...) as a vehicle for the 'found footage' that makes up much of the film's first half. But this device has severe limitations for this story, and even after the introduction of the idea that the camera is being manipulated telepathically as part of the 'fun' of their new powers, it still leaves gaps and holes, which have to be filled with traditional camera usage by a third party. The flip-flopping from one to the other POV is testament to the lack of a clear vision for the film's visual approach.
This is the film's biggest weakness, becoming an ongoing irritant, a sense of being taken for fools, as we move from the lighthearted towards and through the dramatic developments that end in tears - and worse.
But there are many highlights, notably the effects that are used to make us believe the three friends can fly, move objects, project force fields as protection and turn leaf blowers on remotely so as to lift the skirts of nearby unwary girls.
First published in the Sun Herald
Review by Louise Keller:
From insular misfit to delusional teen with superpowers, Josh Trank's feature debut uses the protagonist's camera not only for its point of view, but also as its stylistic inspiration. As a result, the film has an interesting, unique quality, offering good reason for its raw camerawork that changes during the course of the narrative. This is inventive filmmaking that brings its own freshness to the screen. For its young male target market, there's an edgy dark side to the film beyond the splashy visual effects that result from ordinary boys acquiring superpowers.
When teenager Andrew Detmer (DeHaan) buys a camera to record everything in his life, little does he know how extraordinary his life is about to become. Andrew is a loner. He's never been popular at school and has problems at home with an alcoholic father (Michael Kelly) and a gravely ill mother (Bo Petersen). He's never really had any friends - but everything changes when his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the most popular guy at school find a mysterious hole in the ground and want Andrew to record it on his camera. Through the lens of the shuddering camera, we get a glimpse of something eerie in the cavernous hole, giving the boys telekinetic powers.
At first, they manipulate pieces of Lego and ripple stones across the water. Then they discover they can have even more fun by playing pranks - with girls' skirts and by manipulating toys from the supermarket shelves. The scenes in which they trip through the clouds when they discover they can fly, are filled with a sense of boyish wonder. Isn't flying everyone's ultimate fantasy? But as they realise the growing extent of their powers and set their sights on larger items - with some devastating results - the question of moral judgment arises. (As Spiderman once wisely said: 'With great power comes great responsibility')
The camera style continues to change and evolve as Andrew manipulates the camera with his powers, offering smoothness to the otherwise choppy shots with hap-hazard framing coupled with security cameras, CTT footage and others.
The film's transition into a comic-book special effects fantasy is well handled and though the action is clearly over the top when Andrew decides he is an apex predator, with crushed cars, shattering glass and exploding buildings around him, there's a strong sense of drama and psychological tension. I have slight misgivings about a few decisions regarding the camerawork but all in all, Trank's vision is complete. The performances of the three boys are excellent too, as they tread the tight rope of power.
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CAST: Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Dane DeHaan, Michael Kelly, Anna Wood, , Ashley Hinshaw, Joe Vaz
PRODUCER: John Davis
DIRECTOR: Josh Trank
SCRIPT: Max Landis
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Jensen
EDITOR: Elliot Greenberg
MUSIC: Andrea Von Foerster (music supervisor)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Altman
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 2, 2012