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Saturday, July 13, 2024

In review: Chronicle

Rating: 3.5 out of 4

In Chronicle, three teenagers are endowed, compliments of a mysterious glowing object housed at the end of one particularly precarious tunnel, with superpowers. What could go wrong? This will come as a shock: quite a lot.

First time director Josh Trank set out to make a “found-footage” teenage superhero movie. What could go wrong? Again, and perhaps just as unsurprising, a lot. How much is actually wrong with Chronicle? Surprisingly, very little.

Josh Trank’s teenage superhero flick is, again, the story of three male high school students who stumble, rather literally, into superpowerdom. Their progress, and the genesis of their superhuman ability, is recorded throughout via a digital camera by Andrew Detmer, a sour, socially neglected teen with a grating home life. His partners, the two that largely fall under the gaze of his recordings, are his cousin Matt, a goofy, if not terribly lovable pseudo-philosopher, and Steve, the charming, popular, running for class president type.

Together, the three compose a defunct superhuman trio that, with the gift of a lifetime, employ it at first toward practical joking — very good, telekinetically-hinged practical joking, mind you. It’s all good fun and, somehow, terribly believable given the nature of the average teenage boy.

As the movie progresses the boys bond, plans are made, rules are set, and things get complicated. And it’s all, pretty much from start to finish, a pleasure to watch.

Even when the movie diverges from the boyhood playfulness of the first hour toward something awfully serious, as most superhero films seem inclined toward a serious last act, it maintains a level of awe.

That is to say, a sense of real movie magic is detectable more or less throughout Chronicle. A cleverness and, despite the movies usage of any number of superhero queues, a freshness that lifts the movie toward excellence.

While the found-footage stylization of films such as Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch can, has been, and certainly will again, be an exhausting and overly convenient technique, Chronicle manages it. That is, it transcends a potentially fatal gimmick by not binding the camera to a single hand or point of view. Rather, throughout much of the film the camera floats, compliments of the boy’s telekinesis, at whatever angle is appropriate. And when that isn’t the case, other cameras, like security footage, fill in the missing pieces.

What the movie ultimately becomes is a surprising, yet perhaps inevitable addition to the still maturing superhero genre. That is, our genre, easily the most definitive American genre of the last decade, if not longer.

Chronicle stays well within its generic realm, but it asks itself, with an honestly and sense of genuineness that is rare to the superhero film, what would really happen if three teens were given superpowers? The film responds truthfully, and the narrative episode of the three superhumans comes across as believable and poignant. The realness of the film likely has a lot to do with its reduced moralizing, a trait that is weightily common, if not a guilty, high-minded characteristic of our more known characters (ahem, Nolan’s Batman).

Ultimately, Chronicle is a film that can be called “ours.” That is, it is a movie that distinctly reflects the sentiments and proclivities of the young. And it does so in a way that is fascinating, and, importantly, inclusive of social media, which is so omnipresent in the modern life of, well, all of us. Beyond camera technique, to what end social media serves in Chronicle is not so clear. But it’s an excusable lacking, because all-in-all Chronicle has a great deal to offer. To viewers, and its genre.

Chronicle is playing at Regal Cinemas Davis Holiday 6 on F street.

JAMES O’HARA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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