From out of left field comes Chronicle, a PG-13 thriller breathing new life into the found-footage formula that has become so popular in the dozen or so years since The Blair Witch Project. Like a marriage of Cloverfield and Carrie, Chronicle blends its faux nave techniques with a teen telekinesis plot to create something that feels fresh and authentic. Add in the fact that the three young lead actors are all relative unknowns and the director is a first-timer, and it seems Chronicle could deliver on all the viral buzz it's been generating.
Max Landis (son of John) wrote the screenplay from a story idea he hatched with director Joshua Trank. The three central characters are familiar types in the teen film universe. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is the shy and withdrawn one, bullied at school and traumatized at home by his abusive father and dying mother. He purchases a camcorder at the beginning of the film to chronicle his dull life.
Andrew's only buddy is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), whose seeming cool masks the usual post-adolescent insecurities. Steve (Michael B. Jordan) is an outgoing and popular guy, a shoo-in for class president. They become a threesome when, by happenstance, Matt and Steve discover a weird sinkhole that opens into a cave, and they induce Andrew to descend into it with them and his camera. Once inside, they discover a kind of Fortress of Solitude-like hub, with a light show and a crystal that apparently bestows upon them the gift of telekinesis.
Boys being boys, the group employs its new powers in prankish endeavors: moving objects around in a shopping mall and messing with people's minds. Then they discover they can control their own bodies and begin flying like Supermen, but instead of searching out evildoers they bound through the clouds like wish-fulfilled kids chasing a football. There's no kindly adult around them to teach that with great power comes great responsibility, so before long, troubled Andrew starts using his newfound abilities in selfish and destructive ways - including a third-act retribution against all who done him wrong.
The nosebleeds the boys experience when their powers get too fierce call to mind Carrie's gym shower. Chronicle knows its forebears, but it manages to reconfigure some of them and get the teenage gestalt just right. Chronicle may go over the top with its climax, but for such a giddy film it's remarkably down to earth.