If you look at it on paper, Chronicle is what we need the least of--superheroes and found footage. The really fun part turns out to be how wrong that assumption is, because the film is actually everything that both of these genres should be. While most similar high-profile projects just consist of a lot of muscly guys wielding big weapons, zooming around outer space and saying forgettable stuff, this movie actually gives audiences something to invest themselves in. I know the screenwriter Max Landis, and am really, really glad I don't have to dodge his emails now.
It's more than likely that you don't know who the high schoolers in the movie are. Yes, they're actors on In Treatment and Friday Night Lights, but their up-and-comer status allows audiences to reserve the energy normally used to turn a recognizable face into an iconic one, which helps the movie seem more honest. Dane DeHaan is positively spectacular playing Andrew, who's the kind of kid you're sure will end up in an incident involving a black trench coat and the violent purging of years of bullying by his classmates and alcoholic father. It's his camera that documents the movie. His nice-guy cousin Matt (Alex Russell) gives him rides to school but isn't overly attached to him. And Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) is the one with a bright future, sure to be class president. They spend a little time orbiting each other until they find The Thing Underground together at a party. When they discover that being around it gives them superpowers, they bond while figuring out what's happening to them (like normal kids going through puberty do, except with more flying).
Origin stories are way more interesting when they're not trying to be true to decades of information that already exists. Landis' script introduces us to kids we know nothing about, and the clean slate is like a breath of fresh air. When they begin to be able to do world-changing things like fly and levitate objects, we get to see what real kids would probably do with that power based on their life experience and moral leanings. If you're looking for a film that's a nonstop thrill ride, just go rent Iron Man, because this one takes its time in letting regular life unfold while some extraordinary things are percolating in the background.
Although there are some less impressive effects towards the beginning that took me out of the film, and the very last scene feels less genuine than the rest of the film, luckily the climax is jaw-dropping. Since Hollywood's recent focus has been heavily weighted in favor of formulaic familiarity, this movie bodes well for the future. It's exciting to see a studio take a chance on director Josh Trank, who edited Patton Oswalt's Big Fan (another ballsy, noteworthy film). He and his cohorts might just be the beginnings of the new blood that tired, dusty old Hollywood needs in order to inspire people to go to the movies again.