Ever since the 1999 indie hit "The Blair Witch Project," found-footage-style films — which purport to document extraordinary events on home video — have been a popular subgenre, particularly in the realm of horror and monster movies. Recent examples include the "Paranormal Activity" series, "Cloverfield" and "The Devil Inside." The new movie "Chronicle" tweaks the formula with a superhero slant and some teen angst, as three high-school dudes record themselves gaining telekinetic powers and trying to keep them in check. The result is earning favorable reviews.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey finds "Chronicle" to be a fresh take on an established format. She writes, "While ['Chronicle'] might sound like just a YouTube/Facebook variation on the old coming of age story, it plays far fresher than that with filmmakers proving innovative in using the found-footage idea that made 'The Blair Witch Project' such a sensation." Sharkey commends "the keen eye of cinematographer Matthew Jensen" and says "the three teens are a well blended crew, anchored by [Dane] DeHaan, who strip mines the trajectory of teen repression, resentment and rage with a frenetic energy." Sharkey does say the film "is still rough around the edges and a little off the rails by the end," but overall it fares well.
New York Times critic Manohla Dargis calls "Chronicle" "a slick, modestly scaled science-fiction fairy tale with major box-office aspirations." Like Sharkey, Dargis applauds DeHaan, "whose vulnerability and physical awkwardness here can evoke the young Leonardo DiCaprio in 'What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,' and who "pulls you uneasily in." Dargis also compliments director Josh Trank's savvy visual treatment, noting, for example, that the film receives an effective image upgrade when DeHaan's character replaces his video camera with a more expensive model. In addition, the character's telekinetic use of his camera (handheld with no hands, you might say) leads to some imaginative cinematography.
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Amy Biancolli writes that "this brisk, brusque, disturbing little flick also deconstructs the conventional superhero narrative and reassembles it as a canny discourse on impulse control and the troubled teen psyche." What begins as "a goofy and infectious thrill" eventually "veers to the dark side," Biancolli says. Along with well drawn characters and convincing special effects, "Trank tells his tale with an emotional and visual crispness that gives the superhero genre its best crack at naturalism so far."
USA Today's Claudia Puig says the film "comes together surprisingly well under the inventive direction of Josh Trank and the capable storytelling of Max Landis, son of filmmaker Jon Landis." While Trank's direction keeps most of the film feeling grounded in reality, Puig writes, the finale, "which features spectacle in the form of major destruction around the streets of Seattle, grows almost numbing in its Godzilla-like extremes."
Among those less impressed by the film is Time's Richard Corliss, who deems "Chronicle" "simultaneously diverting and annoying." Corliss also says the found-footage approach, which requires that a character bring a camera everywhere, renders the film "sillier than it needs to be at times."
And the New York Post's Kyle Smith offers this quip: "Attempting to blend a cinematic smoothie out of 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'Superman,' the movie instead feels more like what would happen if 'Jackass' suddenly started thinking it was about the nature of evil, with Johnny Knoxville mouthing quotations from Schopenhauer and Jung."
Now that would really be something. Who knows — maybe they're saving Knoxville for "Chronicle 2."
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— Oliver Gettell
Photo: Dane DeHaan in "Chronicle." Credit: Alan Markfield / Fox