Chronicle

Absolute power is pretty awesome
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2012
Director: 
Josh Trank
Starring: 
Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Ashley Hinshaw
The Setup: 
Three friends suddenly develop super powers, deal with them.
Discussion: 

This was out last year and I dismissed it, as many did, until it emerged as a sleeper hit with a power that belied its modest origins and story, and by then it had left theaters. This is one of those "found footage" movies which takes the form of being made up of video the characters shoot themselves, which has the typical advantage of giving the events a sense of everyday reality and immediacy, and the typical constraint of eventually making its characters seem quite psychotic for carrying video cameras around even as they're falling off Seattle's space needle.

We open with our character Andrew deciding he is going to videotape everything from then on. We could take a second here and ponder how this became a reasonable endeavor for people, who in the past might have kept a diary, which would require writing ability and an attention span. Anyway, he's refusing to open the door for his father, saying "It's 7:30 am and you're drunk!" We then see that his mother is bedridden on an oxygen tank. Later that evening, we'll see his father come in the room and beat him for not opening the door that morning. He gets a ride to school from Matt, his cousin, who is reading Schopenhauer and discussing "pure will." We see that Andrew is bullied by kids at school.

Soon Matt, Andrew and another kid from school, Steve, find a hole in the ground the leads into a cave and in that cave is a glowing rock. It looks pretty much exactly like the spiky spaceship baby Superman took to Earth in the Richard Donner film, and it has little black roots that subtly move. The movie takes advantage of its lo-fi home video concept to make small special effects appear with a sheen of realism. While they're down with the rock, something happens that causes the kids, and the video, to black out, and next thing we know, they're back in their normal lives.

Only now, they have the power to move things with their minds. They start small, and find that the exertion causes them nosebleeds (a concept--that they are hurting themselves by using their powers--that is consistent throughout the movie, but never developed and goes nowhere). For a while, they do things kids might do with such powers, and play pranks on people, causing teddy bears at a store to come after a little kid, and moving a woman's car to another parking spot. They find their powers growing stronger and stronger. One day a truck is following them, honking and refusing to pass, so Andrew knocks it off the road, into a pond. Steve and Matt stop and go save the driver, but afterward Andrew refuses to face the reality of his actions and "doesn't understand why they're so angry."

SPOILERS > > >
Soon they discover that they can float themselves in air, and next thing we know, they're flying around in the clouds. Steve helps Andrew do a magic show at school, using his powers, that helps make him more popular. At a party, he goes upstairs with a girl, presumably to lose his virginity, but soon the girl is running out, disgusted, and it appears that Andrew has vomited, and... we'll never know what happened, but it was apparently pretty bad. By now the movie is starting to strain a little bit under the convention of these kids filming everything, and the damage it does to our view of their characters that only the greatest personal crisis to get them to turn their cameras off. In here we've introduced a pretty female love interest for Matt, Casey, who is another one of these junior sociopaths who films every moment of her entire life. We are supposed to think this is "normal" and "cute."

Dad comes in to beat Andrew, and gets a pretty bad beating himself. Andrew goes into the clouds during a lightning storm to be alone and brood, where Steve finds him and tries to talk to him. But Andrew is not very receptive, and next thing we know, we're at Steve's funeral. Matt confronts Andrew that there were no lightning strikes that night, i.e. Andrew killed Steve, but Andrew is unrepentant. Andrew starts robbing gas stations and convenience stores to get money to pay for his mom's medication (though with his powers a bank might prove more profitable) and gets revenge on a bully at school through some impromptu forcible dental work. During one of his robberies he is injured in an explosion and thrown in the hospital.

Turns out is dad is not exactly the reflective type, and blames Andrew for being out when, surprise, his mom died. He grabs Andrew, and we cut to a hospital security cam showing the entire wall blowing out. Matt is at a party with Casey when he gets a nosebleed, sensing that something is going on. They turn on the news and see the hospital fracas, and he and Casey drive to the scene. Why drive? Why take Casey? Why, so she can video everything. She is popping with annoying questions at this point, and Matt isn't entirely forthcoming. They arrive at the hospital, where Andrew lets his father fall, and Matt reveals his powers by flying up to save him.

Soon it's an amped-up version of Superman II as the two guys have a city-wide brawl, beginning with Andrew bringing Matt and Casey's car to the top of the space needle. She falls, and Matt pulls her out of the car just in time, while you're like "Wow, she's still clutching that video camera even as she's plummeting from the space needle?" These are some committed teen documentarians. From then on we handily switch to security cam footage as the guys throw each other through buildings and release waves that push police forces blocks away. Then Matt feels all anguished, but finally has to kill Andrew with the convenient public-art spear. After a little coda, that's the end.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was good fun, and sensibly paced, letting the video camera motif do the work of giving everything, including the extensive special effects, a sheen of realism. It's just good enough to make you wish it were a bit longer and better-developed. This is the rare movie that could have benefitted from being a full two hours, as really the kids are not very well-developed, and they've done a good-enough job of setting up the dynamics of power and rising conflict that you wish they'd taken enough time to give everything its due. Matt and Casey remain very one-note, and the conflict between Matt and Andrew could have benefitted from more detail. This seems like one of those low-budget movies that didn't know exactly how effective it was going to be, and ends up short-changing itself by staying on the modest side.

Still, there's little to complain about as everything that does happen is quite effective, and being lean on development keeps you involved and curious for more. It effectively captures the quandary of kids who are only somewhat mentally developed suddenly having enormous power, and smartly focuses it on character and what each character does with that power. Then it follows logically and let's those powers play out in ways that feel earned and make sense. One also feels energetic and excited afterward, meaning that its fantasy of having sudden powers and reversing the situation on one's enemies is an effective one. So yeah, a good little twist on the superhero story that is effective and lean enough to leave you wanting more.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, it's good fun and quite involving.