In the context of mythology and, therefore, in our concept of reality, we tend to associate super powers with the righteousness of chosen ones, whether it be the Messianic sunniness of Superman or even the shadowy avening-angel "justice" of The Crow. But it ain't necessarily so. Super powers need not translate to superior morality. Even before the Patriot Act, we have long since been cynical about that "Boy Scout" Superman's "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" (look no further than This Means War's glib depiction of American lawmen abusing their power). And postmodern stories of humans imbued with supernatural power have begun stepping into Freudian territory. One common test of character today asks whether one would choose the power of flight or invisibility, the latter presumed to be a morally suspect choice (see Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man). The new postmodern superhero tale Chronicle chooses flight, among other godlike powers, but the ways in which it "centers" the gifted are not all for the better.
Directed by Josh Trank and scripted by Max Landis (from a story developed by both), Chronicle reimagines the superhero myth for a universe that lacks comforting moral order, and unlike M. Night Shyamalan's "real world" superhero story Unbreakable, Chronicle plays against instead of into the prevailing comic-book archetypes. Trank and Landis up the "realism" ante by choosing the idiom of the surging "found footage" genre. The chronicle in question derives from the voluminous videotape shot by Seattle high schooler Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan). Andrew has come by his teenage sullenness honestly: his cancer-ridden mother is fading away on her deathbed, his alcoholic father verbally and physically abuses him, his male peers mostly bully him, and his female peers don't know he exists. Though he submits to the biologically-enhanced friendship of his gregarious cousin Matt (Alex Russell), Andrew's only real comfort comes from his newly acquired camera, an entirely nonjudgmental witness to his pain.
Andrew's depression makes him suspicious of any good fortune. So when he allows himself to be dragged to a rave and encounters a likewise camera-toting girl named Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), Andrew allows Matt to descend and seize the conversational opportunity Andrew doesn't feel he deserves. Subsequently rejected from the rave like a transplanted organ, Andrew goes outside, drops to the ground, and cries. Here, he at first resists another social opportunity, a sincere gesture of friendship from BMOC Steve (Michael B. Jordan), but Andrew eventually joins Steve and Matt in the woods to witness a strange phenomenon they have discovered: a sci-fi MacGuffin that grants them God-like abilities. When telekenesis manifests, the teenagers behave predictably and onanistically: obsessively practicing their new skill and then employing it for self-satisfying purposes (in this case, becoming Jackasses who Punk the unsuspecting for the camera).
Reality dictates that this situation will escalate, but not in the usual manner of a superhero origin story, where great power meets great responsibility with a minimum of self-searching fuss. Andrew has always been made small by his environments at home and at school. Now afforded the power to be big, Andrew finally says "yes" to good fortune, and as a teen, he's not wired for the Apollonian value of "Nothing in excess." Rather, he goes in Dionysian pursuit of popularity, sex, power and control: meet the new boss, same as the old boss (Andrew's abusive father). In the process Andrew loses sight of what once mattered most to him (his ailing mother) and fully embraces the narcissism stoked by his two most recent acquistions: his video camera and his superpower. Matt and Steve settle into a more benign euphoria at their unbelievable good luck, which evolves into the dreamlike gift of flight, but they also quickly find themselves reactive to the newfound activeness of Andrew: someone, they realize, must maintain order in the face of chaos. Give an angry man an automatic weapon, expect a mass shooting. Give an angry teen super powers...
Landis works small wonders with some fairly brilliant special effects and a cast almost entirely made up of unknowns (with Jordan, of The Wire and Friday Night Lights, the possible exception). DeHaan makes a particularly strong impression, with his convincing and resonant teen angst, and there are thrills to be had in those liberally applied effects sequences: a blowout climax and flying sequences that excite our senses and our subconscious desires. This is such stuff as dreams are made on and, as it turns out, separated from nightmare by a very thin line. Pithy and provocative, Chronicle understands postpubescent psychology and even lightly traffics in philosophy (Matt largely defines himself by throwing it around in conversation). Here are newly born man and superman, both unprepared for the consequences of their sudden inheritance of the earth.
Fox brings Chronicle home in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy "Lost Footage Edition" that includes the "Theatrical Version" (1:23:53, HD) and an "Unrated Extended Cut" (1:29:31, HD). The film's consumer-grade camera conceit would excuse basically any blemishes to this hi-def presentation, but you need not expect any such nonsense from Fox's tight transfer. Early scenes play out via an older camera, necessitating some purposeful glitchiness, but the image subtly and faithfully renders the filmmakers' intent at every turn, and soon we're looking through the lens of a pricier HD camera (played by a yet pricier one). Color is plenty vibrant, detail sharp, and textures pleasing. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix also merrily cheats, upgrading Andrew's capability to blistering immersive excitement with effects that are precise and potent (music's not really the thing here).
It's quite surprising to find no commentary here from the young filmmakers (perhaps on a future edition...), but Fox has seen fit to include a few bonuses outside of the extended cut: a single "Deleted Scene" (1:10, HD) that appears to be an alternate beat of a scene included in the film; some "Pre-Viz" (7:48, SD) footage; a "Camera Test"(3:58, HD); and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:08, HD). Before the planned sequel arrives, catch up with this Chronicle.
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