During a traditional time of low attendance at the start of the year Hollywood releases its – to them – detritus. Chronicle may have seemed perfect material for this time of year because its demographic is strictly high school age males, particularly inhibited males easily bullied and left burning with a desire for revenge, which also seems to be the demographic for most comic book readers.
When Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, he becomes Spider-Man. When these three lads touch the embedded structure, they acquire the powers of telekinesis. They also all become linked with each other, so that when one of them is "in trouble" the others' noses bleed (I think that's how it works). They can even fly. In the film's second large scale section, the trio explore their new found powers, first with pranks, then to create a magic show that wows the other students, and also, though, in ways that show the danger inherent in their skills. With great powers come great responsibility.
In the film's third large scale section, the friends begin to fall out with each other. But really, only because Drew seems unable to handle success. Instead of enjoying himself, he withdraws inward, and attempts to banish his friends. When one refuses to take no for an answer, a death results. In the film's final section, the narrative turns in the direction that all superhero films stray, toward a battle royale, this one in and above and streets of the city and near the Space Needle (naturally the film was shot around Vancouver, B. C., but also in South Africa). By this point, the film has shifted from Spider-Man to DePalma's Carrie. In an unexpected ending, Drew is defeated, and his remaining friend takes him into the mountains and leaves him there, for Drew has been imprisoned, somehow, within his own camcorder. But that's what happens to comic book villains: they are imprisoned so that they can escape at a later time.
Chronicle has a tight focus. It's about Drew, and tangentially about the other friends. Casey has only a slight presence in the narrative, for this is a boy's film, and not one about teens lusting futilely for the hottest chick in school. In fact, the film may be an exploration of mental illness, and ends up taking a skeptical view of emo attitudes. Drew is creating his own problems. Depressed people tend to see things more clearly, because they brood on them more, or so recent studies suggest. They can see nuances in relationships that others either don't see, ignore, or have a vested interest in not acknowledging. As a consequence, depressed people are subject to accusations of being "defensive," when trying to explain themselves, their reactions, and some of the nuances they see. Chronicle, however, abuses Drew some more. It's as if Neil Labute made the movie.¹
The film's found footage technique abets Drew's solipsistic life. For the most part the film sees only what he photographs. Occasionally extra footage comes into play: Casey's blog footage, security tapes. But weirdly because we rarely see Drew, we know him less. Since he is holding the camera we rarely see him, only hear him. Cinema emphasizes what is seen, not heard (sadly; or rather, the sound is there, but we the viewers tend to focus on the visible). So though the movie is really about Drew it tilts towards being about the friends, those whom we can see. Chronicle gets around this somewhat by showing the other footage mentioned above, and by Drew using his telekinetic powers to make the camera hover in a virtual crane shot, especially in a sequence in which he kills his street's hoods for their money to pay for his Aunt May-like mother's medicine.
Readers may recall the Fright Night remake earlier this year. There the director, Craig Gillespie, and the writer, Marti Noxon, added a component not in the original. It's a theme one finds in life but rarely in films; the main character high school hero has outgrown his childhood friend, who has remained a nerd while the hero has matured, to the extent of even having a girlfriend. The subject is a motivational sidelight for the film, but could have been the whole subject for a different movie. It's a painful subject, and Chronicle makes passing gestures at it, too. In fact, in a way Chronicle is a movie made by the rejected friend in Fright Night.
Chronicle2 (it could have been called Blog) is directed by Josh Trank from a script credited to Max Landis. Mr. Trank has few credits. Some editing here, some second unit there. Most significantly, he directed the interesting mini-series The Kill Point, about ex-soldiers turned bank robbers caught in a hostage situation. It, too, has a thread of a theme about a character drunk with power. Mr. Landis is the son of director John Landis, and has mostly written short films. It will be interesting to see what themes end up where in these filmmakers' subsequent work.
¹ LaBute is famous for making movies such as In the Company of Men about bullies and their victims in which he reserves his deepest contempt for the victims.
2 It could have been called Blog.