Ever since "Cloverfield," the idea of framing a movie through the viewfinder of a teenager's camcorder has seemed like a really bad idea. That "Chronicle" comes at us via the viewfinder of a whiny, friendless depressive with a camcorder seems like a sure shortcut to irritation and headaches. But once its heroes get their superpower on, this very promising feature debut by director Josh Trank turns into one smart thriller, a parable of unchecked power, and an action film in which the action -- although seen through a viewfinder -- carries the viewer away.
What is it that Andrew (Dane DeHaan, "True Blood"), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan, "Red Tails") find when they crawl down the mine shaft they discover near their suburban Seattle homes? We never know.
Maybe it belongs to aliens. Maybe it belongs to the government. Whatever it is, the glowing, blue, starlike object endows the boys with the gift of telekinesis, and as they progress from moving Legos around with their minds to propelling themselves through the sky, the power starts to affect all of them, but especially Andrew. His mother is dying, his father is abusive, and he himself is a bully magnet. One can't wait to see Dad tossed against a wall and the bullies scattered.
All of which happens. But along with some very satisfying action, the film has an intelligence that the TV ads manage to leave out.
Trank's conceit holds up pretty well. There's always an explanation for why we're seeing what we're seeing, which is made easier by the fact that Andrew can suspend the camera in space even while he and his pals are floating around the sky. Matt's undeveloped relationship with a female blogger (Ashley Hinshaw) provides an alternate view of things, since she's always shooting, too. And the special effects, used economically, are clever, especially when all hell breaks loose and absolute power starts corrupting absolutely.
PLOT After their encounter with an alien entity/life force, three high-school friends develop strange and increasingly troubling powers. RATING PG-13 (violence and disturbing images, thematic material and language)
CAST Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Smart, kinetic and tightly constructed teen thriller