Teens on Film

There's a good story buried in 'Chronicle,' but the found-footage gimmick has been done to death

There's a good movie and a great idea buried in the stagey muck that clogs up Chronicle, the latest entry in the found-footage craze. There are so many of these found-footage movies now that I feel like I'm writing about them every week.

A film about three high school kids finding some kind of meteor and absorbing a strange energy that gives them telekinetic superpowers is a magnificent idea. Hampering the movie with the idiotic premise that everything is being filmed by the characters—an attempt for a new twist on the now-tiresome fake-documentary gimmick—is a terrible mistake.

That's not to say there aren't moments of brilliance; the potential for greatness is shown multiple times (especially in the slam-bang finale). But seeing a movie strain for originality by showing just how many different ways people can film each other is painful to watch. It's a major distraction and, in this case, completely unnecessary.

The three Seattle teens who get drunk at a high school rave are Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and class-president-candidate Steve (Michael B. Jordan). Andrew has a new camera, and he's chronicling the violence being inflicted upon him by his lousy father (Michael Kelly); he's also making a record of his mother's dying days. Of course, he brings his large and cumbersome camera to the rave party.

Matt and Steve find a big hole in a field with ominous sounds coming from it. They invite Andrew along to investigate with his camera—and even though the hole looks and sounds dangerous, they dive in, because that's what crazy high school kids do. They spy a glowing object, get a little too close, and start spouting blood from their noses.

Days later, Andrew's footage reveals that the trio has gained superpowers. They can crush things, stop things in midair, and even fly! And they've got it all on video! Even the part where blood was spouting out of their noses, when Andrew didn't even bother to drop the camera to apply a hankie to his nose!

Director Josh Trank and his writers borrow a lot of superhero mythos. The glowing object that gives the trio superpowers looks a little like the meteor/ship that carried Kal-El to Earth in the 1978 Superman. Andrew himself has a little bit of Peter Parker in his meek personality.

Another point of annoyance: Trank has the high school kids drinking Red Bull and texting a lot, to show he's up on all the teen trends. That bugged me. "How do we make these teens seem like real, trendy teens who know what's what? I know! Have them guzzle Red Bull and text like crazy! Heck, that's what my kid does."

Andrew is the main focus of the film, as his character becomes the strongest of the three. This leads to trouble, because Andrew also has the most teen angst due to bullying from his dad and the kids at school. So he starts using his mind to push cars off roads with the drivers still in them, and to yank out the teeth of bullies at school.

Andrew's ability to manipulate things also allows him to let his camera hover around him without a hands-on operator. So, on top of being a budding supervillain, Andrew can now frame a shot without even touching the camera or looking through the lens. Amazing!

Another student has one of those crazy video blogs that all the teens are doing these days, and she is conveniently shooting video as well. All of the kids have video on their phones, and the material they manage to shoot can make it into the final edit. Trank finds every conceivable way for somebody to be caught on video.

Something about Andrew had me feeling a bit of a sulky Twilight vibe—and I figured out that DeHaan has a slight resemblance to Kristen Stewart. Actually, he looks to be a combination of Stewart, Justin Bieber, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ray Wise of Twin Peaks fame. There's a little bit of Leland Palmer in his evil grin.

I do think there's a good story at play in Chronicle. However, by the time Andrew and Matt took to the Seattle skyline for an admittedly exciting final showdown, the movie had wasted a lot of potential. If they should ever put a sequel together, I hope they jettison the found-footage gimmick and shoot for a straight narrative.

It's time to stop this moviemaking trend. It's just a way for studios to take a $100 million budget and turn it into $10 million. Granted, Chronicle looks better than most found-footage films, but it still seems sloppy. After all, it's cheaper and easier to look sloppy than to look pretty.

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