Chronicle is about three high school kids who come across some kind of mysterious artifact/meteorite and gain telekinetic powers. At first they use their abilities for kicks and pranks, like playing catch at 30,000 feet. But the least-popular kid, Andrew (Dane DeHann), becomes more alienated and convinced of his superiority. After Andrew kills Steve (Michael B. Jordan), one of the other two super-powered teens, the last one, Matt (Alex Russell) -- who argues that they need to set rules for how to use their new abilities -- must confront Andrew. All this is told via faux-video camera footage: Andrew is a budding videographer, as is Matt's girlfriend, Casey, and they "chronicle" the film's diegesis.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. The plot sounds a lot like the setup to a Stan Lee Marvel Comics series from the mid-1960s, a fact you could probably glean from the promotional material around the movie alone. And yes, Chronicle is pretty much X-Men meets Carrie. But perhaps its real progenitor is the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1965).
Mitchell is corrupted by his new powers, of course, and comes to believe that the rules no longer apply to him. Once Mitchell murders another crewman on the planet Delta Vega, Kirk feels he must stop his former friend while he still can. Kirk is forced to kill Mitchell (though he is improbably resurrected in 1996's Star Trek/X-Men crossover comic).
The story of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was updated last year in the first two issues of IDW's new Star Trek comics, which feature retellings of old episodes within the continuity of the 2009 J. J. Abrams film. In this version, Mitchell begs Kirk to kill him before it's too late -- Mitchell retains enough humanity as he phases into a demigod to realize the threat that he will pose once the transformation is complete. It is a more sophisticated spin on an old story, which was pretty hoary even in written sci-fi before Gene Roddenberry produced it for TV.
That plot is constrained by the conceit of the movie as "chronicle": and here comparisons to The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Cloverfield (2008) should come as no surprise. Especially awkward in the "found footage" movie sub-genre is the justification for the filming in the first place. This is invariably a character who is a budding documentarian.
Chronicle, however, offers some variations on this. For one thing, we see POV shots not only from Andrew and Matt's filming, but from Casey's as well; sometimes two of them even filming each other at the same time. There's also security camera and police helicopter footage spliced in. This helps to fill in the on-screen plot without the action getting too contrived: but then the problems of this technique shift from shooting to editing. How have all these clips, from such a wide variety of sources, survived and been collected? Who has put them together?
Another nifty twist is that Andrew, once he gets his powers, is able to levitate his video camera, affording him not only to shoot himself hands-free, but to get a number of complex crane shots. In fact, Andrew's mastery of his camera is presented as his first telekinetic accomplishment. Critics of the "male gaze" in classical Hollywood should have a crack at unravelling some of the implications of spectatorship in this movie.
All this suggests a meditation on mediation, though I doubt Chronicle's filmmakers were very conscious of this. And perhaps that's just as well. It's fashionable every once in a while for artists to get wrapped up in the meta-implications of their chosen medium. This is why we get movies about movies. It's when the movies become more about the cleverness of making them that things can get masturbatory and insular: witness recent nostalgic paeans to amateur filmmaking in Hugo or Super 8.
That such things can be a narcissistic exercise is clearer when they occur in media that aren't now couched, as cinema is, in contradictory ideas of "movie magic" and mimetic "realism." I'm reminded of Atonement (in which the protagonist "atones" for ruining the lives of her sister and her lover by writing a novel about them with a happy ending); the film version of Ian McEwan's novel, while very well done, can't help carrying over a sense of the same insufferably writerly self-absorption. You can get away with a novel about novelists writing novels; a movie about them is a lot tougher.
So while Chronicle may take us where other films have gone before, it does so in a slightly new way. I think I'm ambivalent about it on the whole because of the contradictory implications of its "Gary Mitchell with a camcorder" premise: the features that are innovative are the very same which, if pursued further, would have made Chronicle pretentious and ultimately uninteresting.