With Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell, Ashley Hinshaw. Written by Max Landis. Directed by Josh Trank. Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking. 83 minutes.
The low-budget teen thriller CHRONICLE might have managed something interesting if they had focused on a script that didn’t pile cliché atop cliché. The story is credited to director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of director John Landis), and so they really have no one to blame but themselves. This is an opportunity missed.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a nerdy kid who likes to record things with his video camera, and doesn’t have many friends. In fact, as we see, he is bullied by kids in school and by his father (Michael Kelly) at home. One night at a high school party Andrew is invited out by his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan). They have found something mysterious in a hole in the ground and want Andrew to record it.
It’s not quite clear what they’ve found, but the next thing we know, Andrew, Matt and Steve seem to have developed extraordinary powers. They can move things by the power of thought. They can defy gravity. What’s more, these powers are increasing over time. So what to do with three adolescents with unimaginable power?
The movie might have survived the now-clichéd use of “found footage.” Everything we see was recorded by Andrew, or by security cameras, or by Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), the cute blonde who also happens to bring a camera everywhere. Yet as the story progresses, it’s clear that Trank and Landis don’t have anything to say other than that they’re making a movie with special effects. We see the teen friends enjoy their powers, then show off a bit, and then things go wrong.
What goes wrong is that Andrew, tired of being the victim, decides he’s going to be the bully instead. At that point the film turns into how Matt and Steve have to deal with the out-of-control Andrew. One wishes that the filmmakers had been picked on by bullies themselves while they were growing up. They might have learned that the victim-as-villain story they’ve chosen to tell was the wrong way to go. It’s not that Andrew overreacts – it’s that he becomes the villain of the story. So the message of the film seems to be that – superpowers or no – it’s better to be one of the cool kids. Victims deserve what they get.
There are other clichés trotted out, but to note them would be to “spoil” some of the plot elements. Suffice to say, who lives and who dies in the story is so predictable that you have to assume the filmmakers have never been to the movies and don’t have a clue how obvious it all is. Adolescent anxieties ought to provide fertile ground for transformation into science fiction and fantasy. By telling us that the problem with bullied teens is not their victimization but what they might do if they could fight back, “Chronicle” sides with the thugs, a not very pleasant place to be.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.