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The raw, unbridled capability of the human mind is a concept that has been debated since the heyday of Sigmund Freud. Even harder to grasp is the mind of a person in the formative years, a mere slab of highly potent clay that may be molded differently depending on its potter. If the events of the candidly thrilling “Chronicle” are to be considered in this fashion, the lack of any direction bears the most destructive consequence on this process.
The consequences can be summed up as a burning angst and rejection of others, adeptly personified in the film through the endowment of telekinesis in three Seattle high school teens. The central character, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), is a low self-esteemed loner who suffers from domestic abuse at the hands of his drunken father. He begins videotaping every waking moment of his life without a sound reason, much to the chagrin of his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the school overachiever.
An unexplained freak accident causes the three to gain telekinesis, and they react as any normal teen would: wreaking a playful havoc in ignorant bliss. They control the carts of unsuspecting shoppers, move cars around and even perform magic tricks in the school talent show using just their minds. Each possesses a degree of skill with the newfound power, but Andrew develops the most ingenuity, even besting Steve’s attempt to pioneer the ability to fly. His mother’s deteriorating state of health and his inability to connect with others, however, cause Andrew to crack under the pressure of his environment and his abilities.
Deehan’s compelling performance defines this film as the subtle evolution of his mental state unfolds before, and behind, the camera in every waking minute of his life. He successfully embodies a character trying to funnel his repressed feelings through radical means, whether by his incessant filming in the former parts of the film or performing a ruthless root canal on a school bully. Russell acts as his foil, quickly realizing the recklessness of telekinesis in the wrong hands, but his attempts at simple regulation fall to the wayside. Jordan, who previously played a similarly confident character in “Friday Night Lights,” truly does no more than fill out the group but certainly adds a funny and exciting dialogue to the film’s scenes.
The extremely limited budget may deceive some into expecting mediocre special effects, but it appears as if no shortcuts were taken. These instances of superhuman ability happen onscreen with no apparent smoke and mirrors. Various scenes of the teens experiencing the magnitude of their power are heartwarming due to the mutual awe of the characters and the audience at these improbable feats.
The choice to produce these extraordinary events with “found-footage” cinematography has a pervasive impact despite the visual style’s usual shortcomings. Films such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield,” although concluding in an achingly tense fashion, certainly lack the most enthusiastic introductions. Although that applies to “Chronicle,” the clever juggle of Andrew’s flagship camerawork and the use of ancillary sources such as police helicopters, with the added sincerity of the slightly erratic scene cuts, aids the notion that this tragic tale actually happened.
Andrew’s anarchistic tendencies are inflamed by the growing abuse of his power, as his hell-bent desire for outward affection causes him to literally reject and destroy everything in his path after those feelings fail to be returned in kind. As he harms the city, his primary objective is to be “left alone,” an ironic aim when compared to the gravitating effect that superhuman destruction of various skyscrapers can have on SWAT teams and Matt, the only person capable of ceasing Andrew’s bubbling fury.
“Chronicle” perfectly documents the corruption of a fragile mind by exaggerating the bond between man and his environment. The film is a superb landmark not only for the “found footage” genre but also for introducing a philosophical argument about properly influencing young adults toward positive outcomes rather than abusing them and not expecting outward manifestations of their inner turmoil.