The so-called “found footage” have become something of a popular sub-genre amongst sci-fi and horror filmmakers, from Blair Witch to Paranormal Activity and from Cloverfield to Troll Hunter. Apart from its marketing campaign, Blair Witch’s success came as much from it being first, and therefore bolstering its believability rather than from the actual quality of the story and filmmaking. However, as with anything else, the popularity of the format has also become its undoing because it becomes harder to believe it is real. Troll Hunter was a good case in point. As entertaining as it was, the main conceit that it was found footage was hard to swallow and was further let down by slightly dodgy CGI. The horror films are slightly more successful because they are as much about what you don’t see as what is on screen, and faking nothing with a videocamera is much easier than adding complex CGI.
Chronicle, written by Max Landis, son of the legendary director John, is closer to Cloverfield in that make no pretence that it is shot on a videocamera, even if Cloverfield did substitute the consumer camera for a state-of-the-art HD one. Chronicle, as the title alludes to, is more of a video diary that Andrew, a lonely teenager, starts to make to compensate for the stress of caring for his dying mother and abuse from his drunken father. While this does sound more like an Andrea Arnold film, it is still very much an American high school story that more closely resembles Heroes (and there are cheerleaders) than it does Misfits.
Although something of an outcast with issues (understandably), Andrew is under the care and protection of his popular cousin Matt, who takes him to a rave, along with his even more popular friend Steve. Because Andrew has his camera with him the other two take him into a cave they have (inexplicably) found, where they discover a sort of crystal that causes them to lose consciousness, but when they wake up they find they have developed telekinetic powers, and being teenage boys they use their newfound powers for pranks such as moving cars, lifting up girls’ dresses and other general mischief. However, the more they use their powers, the stronger they become and they soon find they are capable of extraordinary things, but without the guidance of an Uncle Ben, they don’t embrace the great responsibility that comes with great power.
To retain the video diary feel without limiting it only to Andrew’s point of view, director Josh Trank introduces other perspectives such as those of Matt’s love interest Casey, a video blogger, as well as Andrew using his powers to float the camera to include himself in the action. At the end of the film, as the action ramps up and Andrew is no longer in control of his camera, footage from security cameras, and onlooker mobile phones is introduced helping to add a sense of reality to the spectacle.
Overall this is a highly entertaining and fresh take on the superpower genre, with moments of both great humour and pathos. The shooting technique works well and is believable throughout, and on the occasions that it slips it doesn’t distract. There are, however, a couple of occasions that don’t stand up to scrutiny and leave you questioning, but these are fleeting and the films pacing doesn’t leave much time to linger on them. Unfortunately, despite all its indie posturing and credibility it establishes throughout, the final scene is just a bit too Hollywood, which slightly taints all the good work that had come beforehand. However, this will still act as a respite to the onslaught of this summer’s mega-budget superhero movies.
Chronicle is out now on DVD and Blu-ray (with an extended cut and digital version) and available from Play and all good retailers.