Ol’ Webhead’s spider sense must be tingling: his hold over the superhero teen-angst market is in danger, judging by Chronicle’s sleeper-hit success (worldwide takings were 10 times its $12 million production budget).
There’s no Marvel but plenty of awesomeness in this found-footage mash-up of Spider-Man and Cloverfield, in which a trio develops telekinetic superpowers. Jackass-style pranks quickly give way to darker issues as the boys go from blowing girls’ skirts in the air to taking on the Seattle Police Department’s black-clad SWAT team.
Twenty-six-year-old director Josh Trank and his co-writer, Max Landis (American Werewolf auteur John’s son), know their superhero lore. And that, as Spidey will tell you, with great power comes great responsibility. (The screenwriters, who flaunt their familiarity with Schopenhauer and Jung, probably also know that famous quote owes more to 18th-century French writer Voltaire than Stan Lee).
As the hormonal, troubled teen with a dying mum and a lot of nerd rage, Dane DeHaan stirs memories of a ’90s Leo DiCaprio. Delivering brooding menace from under a hoodie, his skin pale as alabaster and his vengeful mind influenced less by the Man Of Steel than Nietzsche’s Superman, he captures the movie’s conflict between morality and free will brilliantly.
What drives Chronicle’s success isn’t just its refreshing willingness not to patronise audiences, though. It’s Trank’s smart riff on the foundfootage genre, twisting it in a new sci-fi direction away from scares (Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity et al). True, some of the handheld lensing is too contrived for comfort.
But in the main it lends this ultra-lean origin story a gritty, first-person authenticity that’s just right for the YouTube era. Not since M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable has a superhero movie seemed so formula – and spandex – free.