With great power comes… great pranking?

Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan and Dane DeHaan star in Chronicle.

"Oh my god, what's that?" "I think it's an SFX reader." "I'm not filming that, it might crack the lens."

Release Date: 3 February 2012
12A | 83 minutes
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan

Apparently, there’s an American version of Misfits in development. We say “apparently”, because watching Chronicle you may wonder if it hasn’t been made already. Albeit with a “faux documentary” makeover.

Having said that, Chronicle is neither as funny as Misfits or as lightweight as its trailers suggested. That’s not because it’s a failed comedy; rather, it’s a lot darker and disturbing than you might expect. This is evident right from the opening scene, with shy teenager Andrew (Dane DeHaan) barricading his bedroom door against his abusive, drunken father, warning him, “I’m filming everything now”. And he does. Compulsively. To the point where girls think he’s a freak and bullies play football with his camera.

After that, things lighten up for a while as Andrew, his cousin Matt and a guy they meet at a rave, Steve, gain telekinetic powers from a never-explained underground something, which bonds them into a close-knit trio. But even then, Andrew’s hang-ups threaten the party. While Matt is enthusing that the day they learn to fly is “the best day ever of my life”, Andrew is questioning why Steve is now his friend, whereas before their shared experience they never even exchanged glances as school.

When a redneck tries to drive them off the road, and Andrew forces his car to crash into a lake, you can sense the fall coming. And when it comes, it comes hard, fast, and spectacularly. Amazingly for a film that had a budget of only $15 million the final battle is one of the best “superhero” slugfests ever put on screen. Visceral, dirty, desperate and gutwrenching, it’s like Carrie meets Superman II, and is worth the price of the ticket alone. Its impact is all the stronger because you’re genuinely invested in the characters. It makes you hope that the rumours about director Josh Trank helming The Fantastic Four are true.

The message doesn’t seem to be “power corrupts” so much as “power shouldn’t be given to people with borderline psychoses” – well, duh, you might think. But Andrew, despite all his issues, is a sympathetic character – you can see how his psyche has been beaten out of shape – and his journey into the heart of darkness remains thoroughly engrossing. All three leads nail their roles, and the relationship between them is the true heart (dark or otherwise) of the movie.

There are, however, numerous irritating little problems with Chronicle that stop it becoming a truly great movie. The main one is that old bugbear: the found-footage format. Not only does it seem particularly pointless here, it often actively gets in the way of your enjoyment. Trank and his scriptwriter tie themselves up in knots trying to stick to the format while keeping the story going: it’s not just Andrew’s videos they use, but CCTV footage, and other characters who handily turn up with cameras at the ready. While this enables Trank to cut between cameras to create a more cinematic effect than, say, Paranormal Activity, the artificiality of it can be distracting. The worst culprit is a hospital scene in which someone has set up a camera on a tripod for no fathomable reason other than for the reason that the scene needs to be filmed.

On the other hand, if Trank didn’t have such a wayward attitude towards found footage, it’s doubtful that the final fight would have looked as good. He uses every trick in the book, including tourists’ video footage and police cameras, to incredible impact. This, along with a subtext about Andrew’s pathological need to be filmed, almost make the format worthwhile, but overall, you can’t help thinking it hampers the film more than helps it.

The other main problem is that early scenes where the trio starts experimenting with their powers never quite kick into top gear in the way you feel they should. It’s mildly amusing watching them build Lego towers without touching the bricks or skimming stones using only their minds, but you can’t help feeling that if you suddenly became telekinetic you’d be doing a whole load more. When Steve “reparks” a woman’s car at a supermarket, the three lads wet themselves like the Jackass crew, but you’re probably thinking, “I’d flip it on its roof to really freak her out.”

It’s not until they learn how to fly that the film really – ahem – takes off. Even then, the first scenes of them flying are a little lame (with the actors looking a little stiff on some digitally-removed Kirby wires), before they really learn to soar. Following that it’s a game of football in the clouds which finally captures a true sense of wonder (the fact that it’s shot in a style about as far from home-videocamera footage as you could imagine helps).

For all these minor gripes, Chronicle is a consistently watchable, assured debut from director Trank, which has the good sense to save the best until last, and largely overcomes the problems of its (now long past its sell-by date) format. Oh, and just to hammer home the similarities with Misfits, there is an embarrassing jizz-related moment…

Dave Golder

Watch a clip from Chronicle. That not enough for ya? Okay then, how about another clip from Chronicle?

Read more of our film reviews.