What, on paper, looks like the latest twist on the "found footage" thriller vein (think The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity) turns out to be a much more surprising and smarter proposition. Josh Trank's feature debut is an unusually thoughtful meditation on the growing pains of adolescence seen through the filter of a warped super-hero movie, as three very different Seattle high school seniors - popular student Steve (Michael B. Jordan), swot Matt (Alex Russell) and bullied weakling Andrew (Dane de Haan) - acquire telekinetic powers after a close encounter with a mysterious pulsing crystal. Though playing by the time-honoured rules of teenage movies, Chronicle uses them to good effect, to depict the way the awareness of these unexplained powers slowly affect the boys' outlook on life and forces them to grow up faster, though not necessarily better.

     The story is told mostly through the footage that Andrew starts shooting just before the event to document the daily abuse he suffers at the hands of his drunken retired firefighter father (Michael Kelly), who will play an important part in the slow unravelling of Andrew's mind as he becomes aware of the opportunities opened up by his newfound powers. It may not be the most original of plotlines, and the regular shift from Andrew's footage to material shot through surveillance cameras or other people's cellphone or iPad cameras in retrospect stretches the credibility of the project a bit too much. But Mr. Trank handles it smartly enough, by coaxing excellent performances from his fresh cast of television actors, and in the way he builds up momentum and slowly moves the film from a realist, low-budget take on super-hero movies into a disturbingly surreal update of Brian de Palma's high-school nightmare Carrie, its breathtakingly surreal final blowout feeling for once entirely organic to the film and not a tacked-on ending.

     It's that sense of organic construction that raises Chronicle well above its competition and makes it a much smarter film, better attuned to the feelings of its target audience without pandering down or condescending to them, than most major-studio attempts at blockbusters, even though there is still a certain sense of focus-group here (see the film's Twilight-ish Seattle setting). Chronicle doesn't take the teenage years lightly, it actually gives them the sense of life-and-death importance that going through them often means, and that's what makes the difference.

Dane de Haan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw.
     Director, Josh Trank; screenplay, Max Landis, from a story by Mr. Landis, Mr. Trank; cinematography (colour, prints by DeLuxe, digital intermediate by Foto-Kem), Matthew Jensen; production designer, Stephen Altman; costume designer, Diana Cilliers; editor, Elliot Greenberg; producers, John Davis, Adam Schroeder (Twentieth Century-Fox, Davis Entertainment Company, in association with Dune Entertainment), USA, 2012, 84 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 11 (Lisbon), January 30th 2012.


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