The found-footage thing: It can be addictive. Though as a movie ploy, it always stumps me how the characters would actually go into a dark woods in the middle of the night (“The Blair Witch Project”) or move their family into a house where a gruesome murder had taken place (“Sinister”). So much of the found-footage premise seems to rest on a series of really bad decisions and the characters’ urge to get it all on camera. Certainly that’s the case in the latest sampling of the found-footage genre to arrive in Japan: “Chronicle.”
The movie kicks off with a teen party, from which Three guys wander off together: There’s the shy and antisocial Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his brainy cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the popular, running-for-class-president Steve (Michael B. Jordan). They mosey down to the middle of a grassy field and discover a huge, dark hole. Matt and Steve persuade the unwilling Andrew to turn on his camera as they venture inside, where they discover a weird, pulsating crystal. When they emerge, the trio find they have developed telekinetic superpowers that enable them to move everything from Lego blocks to four-ton trucks and more, just by flexing their fingers.
At its core, “Chronicle” is that familiar superhero origin story where the ordinary, unassuming Peter Parker gets bitten by a mutant spider and — bang! — he can scale the highest skyscrapers and save the city of New York. The hero myth is hard to resist because it promises an escape from the banality of the daily grind and almost always delivers more, courtesy of CGI and 3-D (though the latter often feels tacked on).
But writer/director Josh Trank and co-writer Max Landis (John’s son) charge “Chronicle” with elements of a horror story, and consequently it feels authentic and immediate. The three guys — for all their budding superpowers — remain their goofy, adolescent selves. The thought that they could deploy their powers to save something or someone just does not occur to them. And the more they experiment with what they can do, the more they feel themselves being pulled toward a point of no return, where the scariest evildoers they’ll encounter will turn out to be themselves.
The most compelling of the trio is Andrew. It was, after all, his camera that recorded the whole, life-altering event. Plus, the dude has an axe to grind. He has never been popular. He has never been brave. His mom is sick and his dad is abusive and violent. (It was to defend himself that Andrew procured the camera in the first place. “I’m going to film everything,” he warns his father.)
So for Andrew this newfound ability affords an opportunity to strike back, for all the hurt and loneliness and the secret conviction that he was actually destined for better things. The world owes him, is Andrew’s logic. It’s payback time.
As all this unfolds in classic found-footage style, you can’t help but think there should be some preliminary exam for would-be superheroes. It’s just not enough to have been a bullied dork with something to prove. Without a little altruism as well, you’ll be destroying cities in an “Akira”-like emo rage before you know it.