It’s hard not to feel for Andrew, the angsty, hoodie-wearing, Seattle high schooler at the center of Chronicle. (More on the local angle in a minute.) Played with brittle intensity in this new found-footage sci-fi flick, he drifts through life unnoticed by everyone—except the meatheads at school who remind him daily of his place in the pecking order, and his alcoholic father who uses him nightly as a punching bag. And it’s that blatant attempt to play on the audience’s sympathies that makes the flick such a confounding mess.
Things start out promisingly enough: Andrew and two other partygoers stumble (literally) upon a glowing, subterranean crystal formation in the woods, and then discover days later that they’ve developed telekinetic powers. Watching them experiment with their newfound abilities by playfully terrorizing shoppers at a toy store is a trip, because pulling pranks is exactly what you’d expect a trio of reckless and suddenly supercharged teenagers to do. It’s even enough to distract from director Josh Trank’s failure to capitalize on the in-the-moment immediacy that found footage (done well) can offer.
But instead of mining the kids-undergoing-massive-transformation scenario to explore the pinballing emotions of young adults, Chronicle devolves into disturbing wish fulfillment for anyone who’s ever been picked on. When Andrew realizes that even his ability to fly can’t make him cool or fix his relationship with his dad, he lashes out—as only a guy capable of crushing cars with his mind can. But because Andrew’s life is so god-awful, we’re left to wonder whether Trank wants us to actually root for Andrew as he brings a city to its knees.
And about that city: The Space Needle is a constant presence in Chronicle, poking out of the background in multiple shots and even serving as the backdrop for some of Andrew’s ragey exploits. But the Emerald City is just a setting and hardly a character, raising a question about its inclusion that could also be directed at the movie itself: Why bother?
In theaters nationwide Feb 3