All too often, super-hero origin stories happen to one person and we follow their journey. On rare occasions, usually involving Jack Kirby creations, we have a handful of people gain extraordinary abilities and we see how that alters the dynamics. In film, the focus has tended to be on singular characters so it’s somewhat refreshing to see Chronicle attempt something different. Effectively a YA super-hero novel brought to film; director Josh Trank explores what it might mean if three teen boys suddenly gain telekinetic powers. He has merged this familiar coming of age tale with the film trope of “found footage” (see The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield) keeping things fresh and interesting. Thanks to Max Landis’ script, the film and its characters feel contemporary and relevant.
There’s little wholly original about the movie – now out on home video from 20th Century Home Entertainment — as you feel elements of other similar tales so it all comes down to the execution and here, the film succeeds. It tells its story, makes its point and ends, leaving the audience entertained and largely satisfied.
The footage comes mainly from Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a high schooler trying to find meaning in life. He has a mother slowly dying from cancer and an alcoholic father, making him feel isolated, alone, and powerless. Some of life’s meaning is explained by his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), a philosopher quoting Jung and Schopenhauer, conveying the film’s message in a not-so-subtle manner. When they and class president candidate Steve (Michael B. Jordan) wind up underground, they are exposed to an unexplained red-glowing crystal, they all gain telekinetic powers. Being teen guys, they pull the expected pranks on one another from tossing balls to raising skirts (reminding us of the similar 1980s comedy Zapped!).
With each use, they realize their power grows stronger and then things begin to spiral beyond their emotional control. Andrew’s family life gets the better of him, and using their powers have dire consequences which are well examined. Events for the teens rapidly escalate until there are pyrotechnics in the skies, bringing things to a rousing, emotionally downbeat climax.
Thankfully, there is no storyline involving the government investigating reports of these odd activities in the Pacific Northwest. Instead, we get Andrew’s footage, mixed in with cell phone recordings and the all-too convenient video blogs from Matt’s Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), the least developed character in the story, which is a shame since a female perspective could have helped.
Still, the movie is quite engaging and worth a look. It was released earlier this year with minimal marketing and deserved better. Still, the release garnered positive reviews and earned over $123 million worldwide, encouraging the studio to order up a sequel script from Landis and yes, there’s more to explore.
The Blu-ray edition is marketed as a lost footage version that added about six minutes of character stuff that enhances the 1:23 theatrical version, also included. The audio and video transfer look just fine, especially since Andrew’s earliest recordings are on a cheap camcorder before he upgrades around the time he gains his abilities. Of course, they look a little too good and maybe should have been rougher to match the movie’s intent.
In addition to the two versions of the film, there are just a handful of special features including a 1:10 deleted scene that is not missed. You can also look at CGI storyboards for 7:48 to see what they envisioned before they shot some of the action sequences. Similarly, there’s nearly four minutes of camera tests for the dinner scene. What’s surprisingly lacking is any commentary from 28 year old Trank or Landis.