As weakling Peter Parker discovered to his cost before his transformation into web-spinning superhero Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.
Three high school students learn a similarly harsh lesson in Josh Trank’s low-budget sci-fi thriller, which imagines the catastrophic consequences for the friends when they are suddenly gifted incredible mental and physical skills.
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is powerless to help his bed-ridden mother Karen (Bo Petersen) fight the terminal illness that has stripped away her dignity.
He suffers in silence, weathering the beatings from his alcoholic father Richard (Michael Kelly) and persistent bullying at school.
The film opens through the lens of an old-fashioned video camera that Andrew has just purchased to record each waking minute, in the hope this might protect him from his old man’s fists.
”I’m filming everything from here on in,” he shouts to Richard through his locked bedroom door, establishing Chronicle’s stylistic conceit of recounting events from the perspective of the different devices that track the characters’ movements.
Andrew’s cousin and only friend Matt (Alex Russell) wearily tolerates the omnipresent camera but is quick to shoo away Andrew when he is trying to impress old flame Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), who has a penchant for video blogging.
Late one night, Andrew, Matt and high school golden boy Steve (Michael B Jordan) discover a strange artefact in a crater.
Soon after, they are blessed with powers of flight, telekinesis and invulnerability.
At first, they employ the new-found abilities for laddish amusement: building a Lego tower using mind control or effortlessly walking a tightrope at a school talent show.
However, once Andrew’s deep-seated rage takes control of his powers, it’s only a matter of time before the darkness completely envelops him.
Chronicle is a sprightly tale of corruption and redemption that curries sympathy for Andrew despite his heinous crimes in the latter stages of the film.
Performances from the largely unknown cast are uniformly strong, led by DeHaan as the dutiful son, who is sick and tired of being used as a punch bag.
Max Landis’s script wrong-foots us on several occasions, not least when a pivotal character is despatched early into proceedings.
Flecks of humour dissipate the tension, not least when Steve uses his mind to move a stranger’s car across a parking lot then giggles under his breath, “Yes, it was the black guy this time!” when the owner returns confused to an empty space.
Visual effects are largely polished although some do not meld seamlessly with the live action.
Alternating between different cameras owned by the characters occasionally feels contrived but the conceit works well for the final showdown when director Trank cuts quickly between Andrew’s video camera, mobile phones, CCTV and police helicopter surveillance.