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One could put this fill in the superhero genre, but this is not a tale of men in masks. The premise is simple – what would really happen if a group of teens one day gained superpowers? It takes three common character types of high school boys and looks at how they handle gaining telekinesis. Remember the mantra of teenaged superhero Spider-Man — with great power comes great responsibility. But not all teens are responsible.
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan, LAWLESS) is an outcast who hides behind his video camera. Between the bullies at school and his alcoholic father at home, he can’t cut a break. No wonder he’s bitter and angst filled. His cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell, BAIT) tries to include him. And one night when he finds a giant hole in the woods, he brings Andrew along to film them investigating it. The next day they, along with the school’s “Mr. Perfect” Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan, HARDBALL), find out they can lift things with their minds.
They test their abilities and over time they get better and better at using them. At first they can move Legos around and before too long they are flying through thunderstorms. Of course as teens will do, they also play plenty of pranks and use their powers to gain popularity at school. As the smartest of the group, Andrew is the innovator, the one who comes up with new ways to exploit their powers. Previously powerless, his new power quickly goes to his head and he begins lashing out at the society that rejected him.
Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis use a found footage style. Because the characters can float things with their minds, the cameraman becomes omnipresent at a point. Some of the footage comes from security cams, cellphones, TV crews and the camera of Casey Letter (Ashley Hinshaw, ABOUT CHERRY), a pretty vlogger girl who Matt regrets blowing off. Funny how that happens — the smart girl who’s into you is never as hot as when she’s no longer into you.
If they ever do a live-action AKIRA, these are the filmmakers to do it. Superpowers, dark direction are both here, but also real friendships. Take all the sci-fi elements out and the story is more akin to something like LUCAS than THE AVENGERS. Andrew and Steve’s relationship develops naturally. Steve comes to respect Andrew’s intelligence and his encouragement means a lot to building Andrew’s self-esteem. But Andrew’s emotions are too raw and he has the tendency to have extreme reactions to perceived slights.
This film was a wonderful surprise. Usually January releases are crap. You might be thinking, what does its release date have any place in its review? Because I wonder if there is a trend starting. Two of the best dark genre films I’ve seen in some time, this one and THE GREY, came out in this typical dumping ground. With visual effects becoming more accessible to lower budget films, younger filmmakers like Trank and Landis get a chance to experiment a little within tried and true genres. CHRONICLE feels free like an indie, but the vfx doesn’t feel cheap. However, with great technology comes great responsibility. Trank and Landis are the right responsible filmmakers who know how to balance story with all the bells and flying teenagers with cameras.