Telekinetic Teenage Havoc
The found footage subgenre is one that has steadily gone downhill since several filmmakers attempted to cash in on its popularity since the release of 2009’s “Paranormal Activity.” Some of those films just used the technique with a static execution, while others tried to shamelessly make us think what we saw was actually real (cough … “Apollo 18”). However, fear no more, because the genre can still live on if it’s in the hands of a smart director, and the newest movie “Chronicle” is certainly that.
Andrew (Dane Dehaan) is a high school social outcast who buys a camera to “chronicle” every moment of his life from his current age to the end. However, one night during a party, he, along with popular students Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), find a deep hole in the ground that ends up giving them telekinetic superpowers. At first, they use their abilities to prank people around the city, but Andrew’s powers get stronger to the point where he begins to use them in rogue manners, which ends up placing more than just Matt and Steve in danger.
All three male leads deliver terrific performances. However, out of the three, the standout is Dane Dehaan. His performance is especially demanding due to the switch he has to make from playing the melancholic, depressed outcast to embodying a hostile, malignant predator, and he nails that transition in spot-on fashion.
For a movie that had a budget of only $15 million, the visual effects are quite stellar. It’s easy to point out when they use green screen, especially for the scenes where the teens gain the ability to fly, but there’s a lot of creative attention-to-detail put into the background of those scenes. Indeed, the highly climactic final 15 minutes of the film are sheer eye candy entertainment filled with visual effects galore of destruction in downtown Seattle.
First-time feature director Josh Trank knocks it out of the park, as he surprisingly injects a lot of smart and innovative filmmaking techniques into the fledgling found footage subgenre. He constructs many instances of ingenious steadicam shots, and that’s mostly due to how the character Andrew is able to move the camera with his mind from his telekinetic powers. Even though it may sound farfetched at first, this filming style actually feels profoundly realistic if you step into the shoes of the character.
Furthermore, Trank paces the film to great effect. He creates a first act that is exuberant with steady, light-hearted entertainment, but then transitions perfectly into an unsettling, yet still surprisingly entertaining second act that explores the dark side of having superpowers. Trank has a keen eye to make sure his audience is never bored by any events of the film, as he had me laughing one second from the comedic pranks the male trio play on unsuspecting bystanders, and later develops the characters and their powers in a genuine manner that never once felt forced or contrived.
As much as I praise “Chronicle,” the one problem I had with it was a love story involving two characters that felt out of place in relation to the rest of the film. Trank still managed to handle this subplot in a gentle manner, but the overall tone it gave off was uneven with the scenes that followed it.
Despite that minor flaw, “Chronicle” still remains as one of the most surprisingly great movies I have seen in the past couple of years. Filled with stellar lead performances, excellent visual effects and smart direction, this is a “teens with powers” movie that is surely not to be missed.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5