Superhero origin stories generally follow a typical format: Normal Joe is exposed to some body-altering radiation/substance/whatever which imbues with them with great powers which they then use for good. While this also tends to be the origin of supervillains, what makes director Josh Trank's debut Chronicle an effective take on the genre is that it shows what happens when three teenagers are changed by exposure to a mysterious crystal and what they do with their powers.
Not based on a comic book, Chronicle takes its time setting up its characters: Andrew is an introvert whose mother is dying of cancer, his dad is a abusive drunk, and he's bullied at school; Matt, his cousin, is a philosophy-loving fellow student at his school; and Steve is the cool, popular guy at school who doesn't abuse Andrew. One night, they discover a tunnel in the ground which leads to the crystal and their transformation. What follows is a fairly realistic depiction of how kids would react if they suddenly got powers. They goof off, pull pranks, and when they learn they can fly they plan to see the world.
Of course life doesn't work out thanks to Andrew whose fury at his life manifests itself in increasingly dangerous and deadly ways. While Spider-Man told us that, "With great power comes great responsibility," Chronicle's lesson can be summed up as, "Don't give an angry kid the means to exact revenge on his tormenters because it's not going to turn out well for anyone." While the trailer telegraphs where the story will go, what makes it more than just a supervillain origin story is Dane DeHaan's performance as Andrew and Max Landis' script. Andrew isn't a bad kid using his power for evil; he's just snapping and can telekinetically throw a bus at you.
What hampers this small character study is the use of a "found footage" structure in which we're supposed to believe Andrew is videotaping everything he does and that it looks like Arri Alexa footage. While movies like Paranormal Activity use the conceit of security cameras to explain the footage, too many movies are using it when they could've been more effectively executed in a traditional manner. End of Watch was a recent example where it starts off found footage and then breaks to standard shooting for large swaths. Just tell your story normally rather than explain that Andrew can psychically control the camera like a Steadicam. (This really blows up in Trank's face when we're supposed to believe that when Andrew is hospitalized in a coma and the camera is set up on a tripod at the foot of the bed. Who did this?)
Scant extras, but it looks and sounds OK considering how it's supposed to be a camcorder.
Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.