Telekinesis is one of the lesser discussed powers in movies about superheroes. Superman and the Jedi are telekinetic but to different degrees. Batman, Spiderman, and all of the Avengers are not telekinetic even though they each have their particular strengths. The high school kids in Chronicle spend the film discovering their new telekinetic powers and how to shape them to affect themselves and others around them. They fall somewhere in between Superman (not human, can fly in space, turn back time, etc…) and the Jedi (who can move items with their mind but cannot fly).
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is the least popular senior in his Seattle area high school; he appears to be lower on the totem pole than the lowest freshman. He has a troubled home life where his mother suffers from terminal cancer and his alcoholic father (Michael Kelly) is ready to beat on him while drunk at 7:30 in the morning. He starts lugging around a video camera, which does nothing to help his social standing, and his only explanation is that he just feels like filming everything. His cousin Matt (Alex Russell) is also a senior in his class, drives Andrew to school every day, but is just fine ditching him at parties so Andrew doesn’t cramp his style too much.
It is at a party in an abandoned building where Andrew, Matt, and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a hole in the ground and some sort of pulsing alien artifact which inexplicably transfers telekinetic abilities to the three high school kids. Steve just happens to be the most popular kid in school, is running for class President, and for once, Steve as the African-American is the rich kid with the supportive home life rather than his Caucasian counterparts. For the screenplay to specifically set it up that it is these three boys who find the hole and become powerful is a stretch but suspending disbelief for a moment is worth it to then follow them around as they test out and try to find the limits to their new gifts.
Quickly, they learn they can move an object from here to there, stop an object’s momentum or speed it up, make items levitate, and eventually, fly. Chronicle’s effects are some of the best I have ever seen. Legos seamlessly stack themselves in mid-air, the omnipresent camera which Andrew conveniently lugs around gracefully floats around the room, and the physical forces upon the human body look realistic when they are thousands of feet in the air flying through clouds.
The cinematography is set up as ‘found footage’; think The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity franchise. Instead of one camera; however, Chronicle is edited with other cameras including a friend’s video blog, security cameras, and third party observers and also has an extensive soundtrack full of songs in the background. It is not as much of a documentary feel as recent found footage movies and as for the steadiness of the camera, it falls between Cloverfield (somewhat nausea inducing) and Paranormal Activity (on a tripod).
The director, Josh Trank, made a wise choice to go with unknown actors here. It helps the audience sink in with the found footage feeling because you will think to yourself, “Hey, James Franco (or whomever) can fly.” These are just high school kids (perhaps a bit too old looking at times) who stumbled upon a hole in the ground. The reason Chronicle is so effective is not just because of the special effects, but because its story idea and screenplay are quite strong. I cannot think of another movie which focuses specifically on the telekinetic powers and its abilities and limitations. A film like Firestarter is limited in what the character can do and a film like Spiderman (which is similar in that a high school boy discovers he has powers) moves on quickly from the initial shock of discovery to fighting evil-doers who have also been zapped by some form of radiation.
The Chronicle kids never get past that initial shock stage. They continuously call each other up and show their buddies what new skills they have unlocked. The possibilities of complete telekinetic power, as you can imagine, can go on for a long time. Interspersed throughout the script are scenes which touch on the philosophical implications of what these boys can do. Matt happens to be the philosopher of the bunch and casually name drops Schopenhauer, Plato’s allegory of the cave, and the tragic failure of hubris. Andrew waxes philosophical later on but carries it towards a darker end of the spectrum (think Hobbes’s Leviathan).
Wrapping up Chronicle would be a challenging task for the strongest screenwriter and the movie eventually falls off the tracks and crashes through the plausibility barrier in the end. However, the first two-thirds of Chronicle are so strong and original that I can look past the sloppy ending and appreciate just how good this movie really is.