"Chronicle" may be spare parts from different genres, but it manages to feel fresh and fun - well, at least as fun as it can get in a film with a seriously dark edge.
Part superhero movie, part found-footage film, it is a confident and entertaining piece of work from first-time director Josh Trank.
Working on a script from Max Landis (son of John Landis), "Chronicle" follows three high school students who gain superpowers after finding a strange glowing substance deep inside a cave in the middle of the woods.
The boys at first use their newfound gifts for jokes and fun, but things take a turn for the worse when Andrew (Dane DeHaan) - the bullied loner of the group - starts to use his powers for much more sinister purposes.
This is where "Chronicle" separates itself from the rest of the superhero pack. This isn't the nice and cuddly makings of a hero movie. "Chronicle" is more about the evolution of a villain - with Andrew's backstory, including an alcoholic and abusive father and unacceptance from most of the student body.
DeHaan is really good at capturing Andrew's slow descent into the dark side, while Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan are also good as the other two members of the teenage superpower trio.
Trank keeps the film moving along at a brisk pace, with some clever ways of making the found footage more than just a one-camera perspective. And just when it looks like the film might start to lose a little steam, Trank introduces some pretty cool flying sequences that could have been cheesy, yet work really well.
It all builds to a rather bleak final battle, with an over-the-edge Andrew releasing his wrath on everyone.
This is a sci-fi film that fans of the genre will really appreciate.
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is "Take Shelter" (B+) - an intense portrait of a man who may or may not be descending into madness. Writer/director Jeff Nichols has crafted a film that hooks you from the opening moments and builds the tension to a stunning crescendo.
Michael Shannon gives one of the best performances of 2011 as Curtis - a 30-something working man in Ohio doing what he can to support his loving wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and deaf daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart).
When Curtis starts having visions of a huge storm, he decides to remodel the family's storm shelter. As he continues the project, the visions start becoming more frightening - and realistic - causing Curtis to withdraw more and more from his friends and family.
Curtis begins to wonder if the visions are a sense of something approaching or worse, the first steps of mental illness that has already led to his mother (Kathy Baker) being institutionalized 20 years earlier.
"Take Shelter" is a drama that relies heavily on mood and Shannon's performance. Nichols gets the most out of both of those elements.
Adam Stone's cinematography is stunning, with shots of ominous skylines and storms approaching that create a sense of impending doom that really elevates the tension.
Shannon is the perfect actor to play Curtis, reminding me of Billy Bob Thornton's star-making performance in "Sling Blade."
Chastain continues to impress me with another fantastic performance as the sympathetic housewife trying to support her husband, even as their world starts crumbling down. She was nominated for an Academy Award for "The Help," but I think this was a better performance.
Baker has one scene in the film, but it is quite memorable - a chilling five minutes that provides insight into Curtis' own paranoia.
"Take Shelter" is not a film for everyone - it's very uncomfortable to watch at times. But that discomfort comes because its material feels so real. This is a fascinating portrait of the genesis of a person fighting his inner demons, building to a final shot that is as breathtaking as any other film from 2011.
"Take Shelter" is rated R for language and will be available Tuesday on DVD.
- To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton's up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.