In a time where both the superhero genre and the found footage film has grown stale, out of left field comes Chronicle, a film that dares to be a superhero found footage film. We've all seen the trailers and we're all overly excited for it, but often times I find that when i'm excited for an interesting concept involving a first person perspective, I'm more often than not disappointed. Will this gamble actually pay off or will it be hyped beforehand only to fall short of peoples expectations?
Here, I'll give you a clue: jackpot.
Chronicle revolves around Andrew, Matt and Steve, three teenagers who gain telekinetic powers after exploring a mysterious hole in a ground outside of a barnyard rave (bear with me). As they figure out how to manage their newfound powers, Andrew becomes obsessed with documenting (or maybe chronicling? HURHURHUR) their lives as they learn to develop their powers. As time progresses, one of them starts spiraling out of control in that typical "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and all that stuff. You know ... high school.
What differentiates Chronicle from other super hero films is that despite the presence of powers, it's not really a super hero film. Though these kids miraculously find themselves with these powers, never does the thought of using their powers for good or saving the day come to their hormone driven minds. Much like what I think any teenager would do when suddenly graced with super powers, they use their newfound powers to one up each other, play pranks and impress the opposite sex. Rather than that "with great power comes great responsibility" bullsh*t, these kids use it to largely benefit themselves and manage to not only make it compelling, but believable. When the film takes a dark turn and their powers are used to exact petty revenge or in a fit of anger, their actions, while still terrible, become completely reasonable as well. Everything from the origin of their power to their motivation is very underplayed and because of that it just feels more genuine than other super power spectacles of Hollywood.
Anyone who has gone through high school can tell you they're the best or worst years of your life, but either way they don't gauge well in terms of importance. Because so, each character falls into a typical archetype of the high school hierarchy. While there's a unique personality to each, they still pretty much boil down to the popular one, the apathetic one and the awkward one. While it's fun to see kids who don't necessarily have to worry about the "real world" outside of high school muck about and have fun with their powers, whenever they introduce a problem or issue one of the kids have it begins to feel like an after school special. During the last half of the film there is an awkward shift from glee to angst that ramps in from nowhere and feels extremely rushed. The actors do their best to magnify their drama, but in the end they were much more believable when they're playing giddy powerful teenagers and not trying to be so serious all the time.
When you're talking about a found footage film, a couple of the typical audience hang-ups are bound to come about. Most found footage films ask you to suspend disbelief and just accept that there is someone with a camera in this world and somehow they're managing to capture these amazing shots in midst of action. Most films disguise this with either a faux-documentary crew or some jerk obsessed with home videos. Chronicle tries to remedy this by using the camera as an extension of the character Andrew, a socially awkward teenager who depends on the camera to provide a barrier of sorts between himself and the world he feels left out of. Much like Thierry Guetta (Mr. Brainwash) of Exit Through the Gift Shop, Andrew has an odd compulsion to record anything and everything and feels most comfortable talking from behind the lens. As Andrew grows more confident in his new-found powers, he appears in front of the camera more and uses his telekinesis to swoop and pan, making the found footage less shaky and more precise. It's a clever device to use and one that Chronicle should thank its lucky stars it had the opportunity to explain away.
I feel like I must warn you though: if you're one of those people that constantly gets all hung up on the found footage device, this film might infuriate you. I sometimes caught myself being skeptical that the camera happened to be on during the more dramatic scenes, or that they never once ran into a problem with the camera's battery. During the final act of the film, they pretty much throw the "telekinetic camera person" concept out the window and it becomes more of a traditionally-shot movie. Though they may introduce the notion that the shots captured are a composite of security cams, helicopter cams and cell phone video, there isn't much it to qualify the claim. Still, you pretty much let go and forget it because the final act is so frenetic and gnarly, it's pretty much counter productive to get hung up on it.
Overall, Chronicle is a great film. It may stumble with it's pacing and take itself too seriously, but these hurdles does not stop it from being a fascinating and exhilarating ride. And even though this is coming from a man that who isn't a fan of neither super hero or found footage films, Chronicle has easily become my favorite entry for either genre.
Alex Katz - This year, we have a superhero movie from Neveldine/Taylor, a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, and Joss Whedon writing and directing the first superhero group movie outside of The Incredibles that actually has a chance of succeeding critically. Chronicle hasn't set the bar high so much as it's taken the bar, flown it to the upper atmosphere, and taunted Christian Bale's growl to a cage match. Despite some stock characterization and uninspired plotting (no shit one of the kids goes mad with power), Chronicle manages a very human, grounded story amidst some of the finest superhero action I've seen on film to date. There is a new standard for found footage movies and superhero movies, and that's Chronicle. 85 - Exceptional