In first-time director Josh Trank’s “found footage” tale Chronicle, three youths stumble upon a foreign monolith from another planet and acquire Carrie-like telekinetic powers. But instead of a humiliating trip to the prom, they’re headed for an epic levitational battle along the tip of the Space Needle. The trip there is told in the style of The Blair Witch Project.
No good can come out of boys (generically named Andrew, Matt, and Steve) who suddenly gain otherworldly abilities without any degree of reverence. As Uncle Ben says in Spider-Man, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” That gets complicated with one bad apple in the bunch. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a socially awkward kid dealing with a dying mother and abusive unemployed father. He suddenly decides one day to videotape everything that happens in his life. As the film progresses, the restrictive sole perspective begins to hop around thanks to a girl, Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), who is conducting her own 24/7 video self-documentation, as well as to security and news cameras until all Hell breaks loose and it gets to be difficult to decipher what is capturing the action amidst the chaos.
Luckily, in a smart, albeit convenient, segue, the filmmakers figure out a technique to take part in recording the climax, rendering whatever cheating may have occurred relatively moot. Also inventive and stunning are the Superman-esque flights through the clouds and the haunting image of a high-rise explosion.
DeHaan has to negotiate a steep descent into madness, as he’s just social enough to follow his cousin and classmate into a dark forest (to provide the bulk of the narrative). But he’s also psychologically disturbed to the point of unleashing a Columbine-level of wrath. Echoing the teen angst-fueled fantasies of The Basketball Diaries, the script attempts to round Andrew out with an unbearable domestic life and the bleak hope to save his mother. It’s a futile characterization to pave such a lofty transformation to take place in less than ninety minutes.
Both the son and father are overwritten and the source of the film’s conflict depends upon their tumultuous relationship. The film takes the stand that there is no good and evil, only the emotionally capable and the emotionally damaged. The film could have stood to have more of a sense of humor rather than self-importance, but offers an exciting and original take on the culture of hubris, self-consciousness and the invasion of privacy which permeates our society today.