Chronicle is released on video this coming Tuesday, May 15. Here’s Master Cat! Al Rodriguez’s beatdown of the film he believes is a powerful piece of movie-making.
In the 1950s, Hollywood turned to its new and burgeoning teenaged audience with stories that spoke to their place in life, often with a twist, resulting in films like I Was a Teenage Werewolf or even Rebel Without a Cause. These stories used the metaphor of transformation to illustrate the rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood, that murky, angst-ridden time of rapid, often uncontrollable growth, both physical and emotional.
Chronicle, scripted by Max (son of John) Landis, just might be the best reinvention of the theme, ever. Combining the genres of Out of the Bottle and Rites of Passage, Chronicle works its magic in 83 tense, terse minutes of bravura Hollywood filmmaking.
For screenwriters, Chronicle shows how it’s done: creating memorable characters without big-name stars, teasing us with a sense of the extraordinary in the ordinary world, then blowing the roof off in one of the most effective third acts in a long time.
Written by: Max Landis (screenplay), Max Landis & Josh Trank (story)
Directed by: Josh Trank
Genre: Out of the Bottle/Rites of Passage combined
Logline: A teenaged outsider begins to chronicle his miserable life on camera and captures a startling transformation when he and two classmates encounter a mysterious object that gives them superhuman abilities.
1. Opening Image:
With a new video camera, high school senior Andrew (Dane DeHaan) catches his reflection in the mirror behind his locked bedroom door as his drunken father hammers to get in.
Andrew’s cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), also a senior, quotes Schopenhauer on humanity’s pure will, saying that all our emotional and physical desire cannot be fulfilled.
Beaten and badgered by his ex-fireman father, forced to watch his ailing mother lapse into the last stages of illness, and bullied at school, Andrew’s only lifeline in his cousin, Matt, a philosophical teen who has managed to think deep thoughts while staying above the gauntlet of the high school popularity game. As he begins to record a chronicle of his day-to-day existence, it’s clear Andrew is on a path to obscurity or worse. Another senior, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), is Andrew’s opposite: popular, social, running for class president.
Matt tries to convince Andrew to come to a party, but urges him to leave the camera behind as it presents an off-putting barrier to true social interaction.
Andrew’s father beats him for locking him out of Andrew’s bedroom. Andrew puts up no resistance and seems to embody the 98-pound weakling.
Andrew tags along to the rave with Matt, who asks him again to put the camera down and “do your own thing.” They meet Casey, a high school video blogger, who is also chronicling events around her but who seems to have none of Andrew’s hangups. Andrew, meanwhile, takes a detached voyeuristic view of his surroundings, which gets him beaten up at the party. Outside, alone and dejected, Andrew meets Steve who tells him he needs to record this strange thing they’ve found in the woods. Andrew reluctantly follows him to a remote spot where a strange hole in the ground beckons. Steve jumps in, Matt follows against Andrew’s protestations, and Andrew follows, too.
6. Break into Two:
The trio find a glowing, seemingly alive crystalline object inside which futzes the camera’s recording. Each are drawn to it like moths to flame, and experience a transfer of some kind of power, accompanied by nosebleeds and a smash cut to black.
7. B Story:
Andrew’s transformation from adolescent to adult — “growing up” — marks the B Story. Andrew reveals his personal problems to Steve, telling him his father is a drunk who lives off his disability after being injured as a firefighter. Andrew has a moment of human connection with his mother on a rare outdoor excursion. She says, “You’re stronger than this,” referring to his emotional pain, not realizing he is developing a physical strength beyond comprehension.
8. Fun and Games:
Andrew, Matt, and Steve recognize that something has changed and begin testing their newly acquired powers in small ways: levitating baseballs and Legos and using telekinesis to commandeer a leaf blower to see up girls’ skirts or causing havoc in a toy store by floating stuffed animals and scaring kids. When they move a car across the parking lot with their minds, they are elated at how far they can take this.
On the way home, they’re tailgated by a honking motorist and Andrew sends the offending car careening through a guardrail and into a ravine. They rescue the driver and escape any notice of their direct involvement, but Matt sets out new rules over the use of their powers: no using the powers on living things, no using the powers in anger, and no using the powers in public.
Later, Matt and Andrew are summoned to a remote location where they find Steve has learned how to use his powers to fly. They quickly follow him into the clouds, once again thrilled at the endless potential of their abilities, but Steve is sideswiped by a passing jetliner, and they plummet back to Earth in free-falling, abject fear. Andrew saves Steve from being crushed. That night, they reflect on the greatest day of their lives. They are unstoppable.
Matt tries to connect with blog girl Casey, but she senses his superiority complex. Meanwhile, atop a skyscraper, Andrew confides in Steve, still feeling like an outsider. Steve suggests showing off Andrew’s new abilities at the school talent show.
Matt and Casey watch from the audience (both filming) as Steve introduces Andrew at the talent show, which at first seems like a prank. But when Andrew’s “stage magic” wins over the audience, he’s instantly catapulted into popularity.
10. Bad Guys Close In:
At a post-show party, Andrew is now the shining star, the exact opposite of his character in the opening scene. He has power, popularity, and some social grace. Matt warns him, “This is the beginning of your downfall.” Andrew connects with a girl at the party and embarks on his first sexual experience but when he vomits and maybe experiences some erectile dysfunction (it’s PG-13, after all), he reverts back to his sheltered, introverted self.
At home, he languishes in his bedroom while his mother’s worsening cough hacks from the other room. He levitates a spider crawling across his floor and in one gesture separates each of its legs from its body.
Later, Andrew’s hidden camera catches his father searching his room when Andrew’s not there. His father confronts Andrew about spending money on a camera when they can’t afford his mother’s medicine and attempts to beat him into submission but Andrew strikes back, shoving his father against the wall with superhuman force and sending him across the room. “I could crush you, you know that?” he threatens.
In separate places, Matt and Steve suddenly start nosebleeds and sense Andrew’s in trouble. They find him in the night sky, soaring angrily among the thunderheads. Andrew says he has no friends and threatens them to get away from him now.
11. All Is Lost:
Andrew sends Steve careening into the darkness and he’s struck by lightning and killed.
12. Dark Night of the Soul:
At the funeral, Matt confronts Andrew, begging him to leave with him and figure out how to live with their powers. Andrew recognizes he is turning inward to a very dark space. Returning to school, Andrew is mocked by the bullies for his sexual failure at the party. Andrew strikes back, telekinetically yanking a bully’s teeth from his mouth. He talks about the concept of the “apex predator,” the one at the top of the food chain. He is evolving into something very dark and angry. “The lion doesn’t feel guilty when he kills the gazelle,” he says to the camera.
13. Break into Three:
Andrew suits up in his father’s old firefighter gear and robs some neighborhood toughs to get money. It’s not enough. He robs a convenience store with his powers but when he’s followed outside by the shotgun-wielding cashier, a blast from the gun triggers an explosion which puts Andrew in the hospital.
Andrew’s father visits him in the hospital. Andrew is unconscious and bandaged. His father reveals his mother has died while Andrew went on his spree and blames him for his mother’s death. Andrew wakes and reacts violently, setting off an explosion in the hospital room.
Matt and Casey are together when Matt’s nose starts to bleed. They race to the center of the city where Andrew levitates outside the smoking aftermath of the hospital explosion. He drops his father from the high tower of the hospital and Matt flies up to catch it.
Andrew and Matt battle through the city as Andrew resists all calls to stop his angry retaliation against the others. “You’re all weak!” Andrew shouts. “I’m stronger than you!” Matt urges him they can be a family, tells him this isn’t who he is. Andrew has completely crossed over into villain territory: “I’m an apex predator,” he replies.
Matt attempts to protect Andrew from the surrounding police squad but Andrew sends cars and cops flying with the force of his mind. Matt sees no choice but to destroy Andrew, impaling him with a statue’s bronze spear.
15. Final Image:
Matt soars above the clouds, the philosopher, alone. He lands high on a Tibetan mountaintop, fulfilling Andrew’s wish to achieve some kind of peace. In his last goodbye to Andrew, he says he will find a way to use his powers to help people and flies out of frame.