Dane DeHann really bothers me. In a good way. As whiny Jesse in the amazing HBO series In Treatment, and the horror fan’s fave True Blood, DeHann gets under your skin. While you are in the moment, watching him, his performances are like an itch. You want it to go away. But when it’s gone, it becomes a craving. He’s one of the few young actors today who makes an impression. (Now, let’s just hope he doesn’t get typecast.)
As Andrew, the troubled teen in the latest found footage thriller Chronicle, DeHann elevates what is already a pretty smart and savvy storyline. Andrew is, like most of us in this brave new world, a diarist and a documentarian. Everything he does is recorded for posterity, whether it is noteworthy or not. (Fortunately for us, this is a fictional narrative, so we don’t have to watch all the dull bits ad infinitum.) The super-linear super-powers parable opens at the beginning, when Andrew attends a late night party with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and their acquaintance and classmate, Steve (Michael B. Jordan). The high-schoolers, while off on a jaunt, discover a mysterious and cavernous hole in the ground and Andrew’s camera records the results: a subterranean crystal cave which somehow imbues the boys with superhuman abilities.
At first, it’s all fun and games and horseplay. The three boys manage amazingly well to keep their secret to themselves, but before long their young, untried limbic systems begin to break down and their powers are used for harm. Nothing big and lofty, no Lex Luthor taking-over-the-world type stuff, but nonetheless, the ramifications are harsh. With no one to turn to, not even each other anymore, Matt, Steve and Andrew find themselves sinking into worlds of destruction far beyond anything they ever could have imagined.
And the camera catches it all. Kudos to DP and editor Matthew Jensen and Elliot Greenberg. First time director Josh Trank and relative newbie screenwriter Max Landis make it all make sense – and they keep it pretty steady! There is very little shaky-cam, and the parts which are smooth are explained thusly: in early scenes, it’s established that Andrew has been handling a camera for years and so of course he would know how to steady it. Later on, when Andrew’s abilities come to the fore, he floats the camera with his mind, getting all conceivable (and believable) cinematic angles. Found footage is also cobbled together from another videoblogger (Matt’s love interest, played by Ashley Hinshaw), plus surveillance cameras and the like. Now, just who edited the material, remains a mystery (there is a satisfying, yet open, ending) and that’s fine with me. While the material does skew young (I’m not in a demographic for this film and probably would not have chosen to see it were it not for my profession), I found it wholly entertaining and definitely recommend it.
Do I recommend it to horror fans? Maybe. While Chronicle is a fast-paced, well-made film, and certainly one of my faves in the found footage flotsam and jetsam, it’s a dramatic sci-fi thriller straight up. There aren’t any moments of “horror” (though there is a bit of blood and some death… it’s not one to take the little kiddies to).
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson