The life of a high schooler can be difficult. But all those social pressures, sexual tensions and feelings of inadequacy are only the tip of the iceberg for Andrew Detmer. He's got an even tougher go of it at home. His beloved mom is dying. There's no cash for medicine. And his abusive father is, well, abusive.
It's not that the man is evil incarnate. He used to be a respected firefighter till he was injured. Now he just sits at home, drinks like a fish and takes his misery out on Andrew. That's why Andrew decides to save up his cash and buy an old video camera. If nothing else, it'll help create a document of his torture if the police show up at the door.
But the camera ends up chronicling something quite different.
It all starts when his cousin Matt drags him to a party at an abandoned barn. Andrew isn't much for parties, but this one turns out to be a pretty interesting one when he, Matt and a popular guy at school named Steve find a mysterious hole in a nearby field. It's an opening that leads down to an underground cave … and a strange pulsating crystal thing.
Is it radioactive? Some kind of government secret? Extraterrestrial? All Andrew and the other guys are sure about is that they've woken up from a black-out and have somehow made their way back topside. And that now they all suffer from really bad nosebleeds. Oh, and that they can move things just by thinking about it. Telekinesis! Is that cool, or what?
At first they can only nudge little LEGO pieces or change the paths of tossed baseballs. But then they get better at it and start manhandling larger stuff. It's sort of like exercising a muscle, they realize. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. And then Steve moves a parked car. And Andrew realizes that he's got a tiger in his telekinetic tank too.
Hmmm. Does this make teenage life easier or harder?
Matt and Andrew don't hit it off right away, but they do grow close. In fact, their shared telekinesis actually causes the three (Matt, Andrew and Steve) to become very good friends for a while. And even after their relationship begins to decay, Matt does everything he can to help turn Andrew from a destructive path. Matt tells Andrew (via the camera) how much he loves him. And he declares his desire to use his power to do good for others.
Matt and Steve aid Andrew with a magic show in the school talent contest: They want to help him gain the popularity he'd always lacked. And when they realize just how powerful they are, Matt sets up several rules to follow. Among them: "Never use your power when you're angry." They don't always follow those rules, naturally, but by creating them the guys are acknowledging the very thing Spider-Man has so often said, that "with great power comes great responsibility."
Steve jumps in after a drowning man and pulls him to safety. During one harrowing close call, Steve is knocked unconscious and is falling to his death when Andrew swoops in to grab him, saving his life. Matt saves the life of another man who is falling to his death. And, ultimately, he does the hardest thing he's ever had to do in his life to save the lives of thousands.
It's obvious that Andrew and his mother have a close, loving relationship. And the dying woman encourages her son to stay strong.
After the guys go all telekinetic, Andrew mentions that he'd like to visit Tibet and meet with the monks there. Maybe they can help them understand these new powers, he thinks. One of the guys makes a crack about them being Mormon.
A number of the high school girls at parties wear formfitting and/or low-cut dresses. The boys use the camera to zoom in on the backsides of girls. Matt "commands" a leaf blower to turn on and lift up the skirts of girls standing at a distance—revealing their underwear.
Andrew, who states that he hasn't had sex "since ever," is seen kissing a girl and going upstairs to a bedroom with her. Later we see him sitting dejectedly on the edge of the bed with vomit on his jacket and his pants around his ankles. Steve talks cryptically about how his telekinetic power has improved his sex life, using equally cryptic hand gestures to reinforce his point. For his part, Matt mentions that he hasn't had sex since the summer. We see him leave a party with a girl. It's an assumed thing among the guys that sex should be an uncontested part of growing up and that the more of it they have the happier they'll be.
Of all the bashing and smashing destruction in the film, some of the most jarring moments are those few when Andrew's dad physically abuses his son. He slaps him upside the head and throws him to the ground for disobeying. He menacingly advances on the boy, punches him in the face and sends him stumbling backwards into a wall. Flush with his new power, Andrew retaliates at one point, pounding his father into a wall, imploding another nearby wall and sending the man flying across the room.
A teenager is impaled through the chest by a large spear telekinetically ripped from a statue. Lingering shots show him hanging, dead, suspended above the ground. People are sent smashing through the sides of buildings. Vehicles are strewn about, some plowing into passersby. A man's car is sent crashing through a highway guardrail; he's pulled out of the water below with blood streaming from his mouth. Another man is intentionally dropped from a great height.
Andrew levitates a spider and pulls the creature into pieces with a flex of his fingers. He rips the teeth out of a bully's mouth and then examines the bloody teeth, treating them like trophies. He causes someone to be struck by lightning and killed. He robs a gas station, smashing the attendant into a wall. And when the guy pulls out a shotgun, Andrew knocks it aside and creates a huge explosion the sets both of them on fire. We see the teen later, bloodied, badly burned and bandaged.
All of the boys bleed profusely from the nose. They're battered and bruised by baseballs they throw at each other.
Crude or Profane Language
At least 40 s-words. A half dozen or more uses each of "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "b‑‑ch." Male and female anatomy are assigned crude terms ("p‑‑‑y," "pr-ck"). God's name is misused close to 20 times (quite often with "d‑‑n"). Jesus' name is abused one or two times. There are several exclamations of "holy crap" and "douche bag." Matt flips his middle finger toward the camera.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Andrew's dad is usually holding a beer, and his empties can be seen nearby. High schoolers at two different parties drink copious amounts of beer from cups and bottles. A somewhat drunk Andrew plays a game of beer pong. We later see drunken vomit splattered all over his jacket and the hair of the girl he was with.
Other Negative Elements
Matt calls his nosebleed a "nose period." The boys use their blossoming powers in a series of pranks that include scaring a little girl, ripping gum out of a guy's mouth and moving a woman's car so she thinks it's stolen. In that last case, Steve, who is African-American, chuckles behind the woman's back, saying, "It really was the black guy this time!"
Andrew's father repeatedly bad-mouths his son. And after Andrew's mother dies, Dad unfairly pins the blame on the boy.
Watching Chronicle, you at first think it's merely a breezy take on a superpower origin tale. It has a certain dramatically creative flair and a fresh-faced teen cast. Its "found footage" presentation (like Super 8, Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project before it) fits naturally with the record-everything-for-your-Facebook-page teen world that forms its core.
When you look closer, however, you find that this is less about teenage superheroes than it is an action-adventure examination of the changes that accompany newfound power. Way back in the late 1800s, Lord Acton wrote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." He fleshed his meaning out with, "Great men are almost always bad men."
Chronicle doesn't so much disagree with this axiom as insist that the British politician who penned it still didn't go far enough. The cinematic sentiment put forth here is that power amplifies the emotions, scars and personal attributes or flaws that people hide within themselves.
So when superpowers are mixed into the already emotionally tumultuous lives of a trio of teens, we see the spin-cycle results—two move from youthful philosophies to thoughts of higher good, while one agonizes over a life of pain and traumatic abuse, eventually moving from mind-controlled insect torture to catastrophic destructiveness.
That power-pumped action is simultaneously entertaining and thought-provoking, and it has (or, rather, had) the potential to be responsible. But it doesn't end up succeeding. Instead, it too often uses its telekinetic abilities to levitate festering hatred, death and demolition, and ugly profanity.