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Review

‘Chronicle’ is on the cusp of being a fantastic movie

Michael Brun

February 24, 2012

The superhero movie “Chronicle” is proof that villains often make the most interesting characters.

At center stage is Andrew Detmer played by Dane DeHaan, an awkward high school outcast who decides one day to carry around a camera and document his life. Although his cousin Matt played by Alex Russell is popular around school, Andrew spends his days dodging bullies in the halls and eating lunch by himself. Things are no better for him at home, either: his dad is a perpetually drunk and abusive ex-firefighter living off disability checks, while his mom is bedridden with a terminal illness.

Matt, playing the supportive cousin, convinces Andrew to go with him to a party on the outskirts of town. The two of them wander off with class president candidate Steve played by Michael B. Jordan to check out a mysterious hole in the ground. Inside they find a glowing orb that zaps them with a strange energy, giving them super powers.

“Chronicle” is filmed primarily through the lens of Andrew’s handheld camera. As the teens begin to develop their new abilities, it plays out much like the countless videos on YouTube of teenagers being reckless. They start out lighthearted enough, moving objects with their minds and playing practical jokes. But soon their powers evolve, and the teens start to lose control.

The defining moment for Andrew is when he forces a road-raging redneck to crash with the mere swipe of a hand. The sudden rush of power launches the previously helpless sad sack on a revenge fantasy rampage that becomes the central focus of the plot.

Andrew is so ultimately pathetic that his rise in popularity is satisfying to watch. After winning the school talent show by passing off his powers as parlor tricks, his ear-to-ear grin looks and feels genuine. Anyone who has ever daydreamed about being the most popular kid in school will likely be grinning along with him.

If “Chronicle” starred Peter Parker or Clark Kent, the rest of the movie would be about the main character realizing the responsibility that comes with great power, and going off to fight crime. But Andrew has no interest in helping others, and instead turns his new-found abilities against the world that had beaten him down. This is very much a villain origin story.

The similarities between “Chronicle” and the anime/ manga series “Akira” are nearly too many to count. The story also retreads much of the same ground covered in the first season of the illfated series “Heroes.” That said, there is sincerity to the presentation that keeps it from feeling hackneyed or stale. When Andrew turns the table on his abusive father, the drama is real, and perhaps more intense than audiences would expect.

It is remarkable how a strong premise can make it easy to look past a movie’s shortcomings. The low-budget effects and no-name cast in “Chronicle” mean nothing when you find yourself engrossed in its story.

Considering how well the plot of “Chronicle” works, it confuses me as to why it was shot in found-footage style. The effect feels like a crutch, an excuse to gloss over basic exposition elements and scene transitions. Ultimately it adds little, but detracts in a big way.

By the finale it seems the filmmakers ran out of ways to introduce cameras into the environment. It turns a potentially thrilling superhero beat down into a distracting patchwork of surveillance camera footage. If the action scenes in “Cloverfield” left you frustrated, get ready for more of the same in “Chronicle.” As a self-contained fantasy tale, there is a lot to like in “Chronicle.” The premise is good, and the execution impressive. But its gimmicky filming style holds it back from greatness.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.