Three teenage friends go down a hole in the woods and emerge with telekinetic capabilities. As their great powers grow, though, so does their sense of irresponsibility...
Greenlighting a movie is a perilous business at the best of times. But there can surely be no more of a safe slam dunk in Hollywood than when two unknown but exuberant movie brats, one of them the son of the director of An American Werewolf In London, disrupt your morning San Pellegrino with a script that promises Blair Witch meets Carrie, as told by three teen characters that would make John Hughes blush. And then ask you for just $15 million to deliver it. Nobody knows anything, of course, but sometimes… Well, sometimes you don’t have to be Harvey Weinstein. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.
Early on in its running time, Chronicle’s three unknown leads find themselves in a place that may either prove to be very right or very wrong, at an equally debatable time, when they discover some sort of Kryptonite-thing at the bottom of a big hole in the woods. The script, written by Max Landis, based on a concept by first-time feature director Josh Trank, injects some genuine, real-teen realities, as the three friends discover this close encounter has given them early-stage telekinesis. The condition has them first lark about, playing a sort of brain-based baseball, then cause all manner of hi-jinks on a visit to a shopping centre. Later, they start to stretch their skills — “It’s like a muscle,” says one, “we just have to learn to use it” — learning to fly, fight and, this being a teen movie based in approximate movie-truth, get laid.
To this point Chronicle is an immensely enjoyable superhero sci-fi, Sundance-cool yet shot with a studio sheen. It even makes a sincere effort to avoid the POV pitfall that has derailed so many found-footage movies since Burkittsville, its key documentarian, Dane (Detmer, channelling Basketball Diaries DiCaprio), learning to pilot his camcorder with his mind, thereby finding a neat (if not always successful) excuse why some shots can only have been achieved by a fourth party.
But then, after one of the trio abuses his powers in manipulating a car accident, causing a rift in the already fractious friendship, the movie accelerates astronomically, building and building and building again, to a climax so spectacular it borderline demands a standing ovation. In a world where trailers routinely give away the whole package in under three minutes, here is that rare thing: a movie that makes its promise and then over-delivers on it in a way that genuinely takes your breath away.
Make no mistake, Chronicle is by no means perfect. Primarily because, regardless of how decently rounded they are, its characters are possessed of a morality that stretches credulity. Three red-blooded teenage boys have gifted powers that could grant them unlimited girls, money and fame, and yet it takes them until act three to figure out that they might want to abuse them? It’s a nice thought, but one that wouldn’t have sat right 60 years ago, much less in the cynical I-want-it-nowness of the YouTube generation.
Still, you will be hard pushed to find a more essential leftfield movie experience this year. A true rarity, it manages to feel at once familiar — its ’80s sensibilities will strike chords with fans of Akira; and for telekenisis aficionados, there’s an on-stage sequence that riffs Carrie — and brand-spanking-new.
Crucial, too, is that this is a rough-edged first-time production that has — believe it or not — been put through the studio machine and emerged the better for it. In striving for a PG-13 rating, many of the original screenplay’s gruesome excesses have been toned down smartly. The gorehounds may bemoan it, but in another incarnation Chronicle could have been an exploding head away from another descendant of Scanners. Instead it is fresh and accessible, exciting and memorable, and marks out director Trank, who here executes two quite astonishing set-pieces, as a man with the power to do very great things. Little wonder Fox is considering him as a possible future for their Fantastic Four franchise. Here’s hoping.
A stunning superhero/sci-fi that has appeared out of nowhere to demand your immediate attention.