Saturday, December 16, 2017
Movies

Review: 'Chronicle' makes good sense of the truly absurd

You know Chronicle is science fiction when high school students name-check Plato and Schopenhauer as if those philosophers are rock stars. Then things get weirder.

Chronicle is yet another movie supposedly cobbled from amateur video of extraordinary events. It's also the smartest example of that conceit I've seen since The Blair Witch Project hit the record button, with a practical explanation for each camera angle capturing supernatural actions. I swear as soon as a question of how this could happen popped into my head, the movie had an answer. After a while you just sit back and smile at a gimmick well done.

Beyond the fantasy, Chronicle also keeps the idea of a bullied victim striking back surprisingly grounded. The principal camera belongs to Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a supremely uncool senior with an abusive alcoholic father, dying mother and classmates pouncing on his every awkward moment. There's nothing at all special about Andrew and then suddenly there is, and his tormentors will pay dearly.

Taken under the wing of his cool cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and the biggest man on campus, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), Andrew records their exploration of a sinkhole leading to what appears to be extraterrestrial debris. Contact leaves the boys with telekinetic powers, enabling them to move objects and later fly. Matt lays down three rules: Don't use the power against humans, in anger or in public. Andrew will break all three.

At first the power is used just for fun, with the guys tossing a football in the stratosphere and punking strangers. Andrew attains a measure of respect at school by wowing classmates with telekinetic tricks in a talent show and playing a dream game of beer pong. He almost loses his virginity until an embarrassing turn becomes gossip and he's back on the bottom rung again. Dad gets meaner, Mom gets sicker and Andrew snaps.

Director Josh Trank plays everything with total conviction to the impossible, smoothly disguising most of the movie's technical flaws. The flying sequences have the telltale appearance of actors strapped to harnesses, with the wires digitally removed. Several performances are all that can be expected from still-aspiring actors. But this movie moves briskly, refusing to allow time for nitpicking.

Screenwriter Max Landis (son of filmmaker John Landis) doesn't explain away everything, but he nails the key questions about how we see everything we're supposed to see. One classmate (Ashley Hinshaw) is a vlogger herself, police car and security cameras capture moments Andrew can't, and a violent finale atop Seattle's Space Needle is culled from the collateral flotsam of cellphone and laptop cameras telekinetically yanked from their owners.

Chronicle is so clever about the absurd, and so much fun to watch, that I'm almost disappointed the ending doesn't leave room for a sequel. Memo to Trank and Landis: Just pass along the telekinetic blessing/curse, drop in a Kierkegaard reference and let it fly.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

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