Chronicle (2012) DVD Review: Rebel Without a Costume

Written by Chad Derdowski

When Andrew (Dane DeHaan) decided to start videotaping his life, he had no idea what was in store. Bullied at school and at home by an alcoholic father, Andrew is watching his mother die from the cancer that is eating away at her. His social life is practically nonexistent and the camera serves as not only a tool of documentation, but also another barrier between Andrew and everyone else. All that changes when he and his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), along with the popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a mysterious glowing artifact at a party.

As so often happens in comic books, the incident grants the three teens telekinetic powers. Chronicle follows the kids as they develop a strong bond of friendship while learning to use their powers. But they soon discover that having super powers doesn’t exempt them from real life and the demons that haunt Andrew begin to manifest themselves in the use, and abuse of his power. Drawing as much from Akira as the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man comics, Chronicle gives us a unique look at teen angst and the superhero origin story.

So… yeah, it’s another “found footage” movie. Two words that generally mean one of two things: it’s either one of a million or it’s one in a million. For my money, the only time the whole found footage thing has really worked was the Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. And I guess Cannibal Holocaust, but the less said about that movie, the better. Yikes! I’ve heard [REC] was good, but I can’t really comment because I’ve only seen the American version, Quarantine, and while that movie wasn’t terrible, it really wasn’t much better than “meh”. The point is, unless the filmmakers find a unique way to present the idea, any “found footage” movie automatically gets lumped in with a big pile of wanna-be’s.

The thing about teenagers is that they think they’re really important and they love to hear themselves talk. So it is completely within the realm of possibility that a teenage kid might just decide to document his life one day and it makes perfect sense that other kids would act like complete idiots in front of the camera, thereby revealing more about their true selves in five seconds than they would in an hour-long conversation. In the modern world, people tend love to plaster themselves all over the internet, so it makes perfect sense that another character would also be documenting her entire life for her video blog (is that a vlog?). On the other hand, who thinks to turn a camera on before answering the doorbell? And who edited all of this stuff together to make a narrative? Found footage is a gimmick that generally works in Chronicle, but does wear thin from time to time. While it can be an interesting look at narcissism and the teenage mind, it’s also just a convenient way to skip over certain parts of the story that happened when the camera wasn’t turned on.

The beauty of Chronicle is that the story is strong enough to carry an occasionally weak gimmick. Like the superhero comics (especially Marvel Comics of the 1960s) that clearly inspired it, the film gives us a look at the dizzying highs of having an amazing gift that no one else in the world has and the soul-shattering lows that come when the protagonist realizes that those powers do not offer a respite from his teenage years. Like Peter Parker before him, Andrew Detmer still has to deal with the jeers of his classmates and worries about where the money to pay for his Aunt May’s (or in Andrew’s case, his mother’s) medicine will come from. But without an “Uncle Ben incident” to teach the lesson about great power and great responsibility, Andrew’s path ends up decidedly darker than the one followed by our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

While the concept may seem farfetched, the movie handles it in a realistic manner. The boys’ telekinesis is described as a “muscle” that needs to be worked out, and they wind up getting nosebleeds in the beginning from overexerting themselves. Their gifts manifest in slightly different ways: one develops a bit faster while another gains fine motor skills a bit earlier. Being teenage boys, they mostly just use their talents to pull practical jokes and gain popularity. In addition to the depiction of superpowers being realistic, the relationships between the boys and their peers are treated fairly realistically, despite being more than a bit melodramatic at times. But then, teenagers are pretty melodramatic, so it’s totally appropriate. And again, when one considers the superhero comic books that the film clearly draws inspiration from, a bit of melodrama is not only expected, but quite fitting.

I found Chronicle to be an engaging and entertaining film. A nice blend of drama and sci-fi that kept me interested throughout, despite a few nagging flaws. Overall, the sum of the parts outweighed the negatives and I wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of superheroes, science fiction and teenage angsty stuff, or for folks who wanted Unbreakable to be a bit less boring and talky. The DVD features a few extras that basically just amount to behind-the-scenes stuff.

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