Movie: Chronicle (2012)
As a lover of superhero (or super-power) movies and TV shows, I have been looking forward to Chronicle since I first saw the trailer. The story “what if a group of regular people suddenly got superpowers” has a fair few examples these days, and I would argue that this version is a perfectly decent addition. It also falls into the more dubious category of “found footage” films, but it manages to not annoy me at all with a few clever workarounds.
Chronicle tells (yeah, even I won’t make that pun) the story of Andrew, Matt and Steve. They are three fairly different sort of boys: one shy with a difficult home-life, one average “cool” guy (his own words), and one very popular guy planning on making it big in politics. The three of them decide to explore a perfectly round hole in the woods, and of course discover some weird glowing crystal that bestows upon them the gift of telekinesis. All this is documented by Andrew’s camera, as well as a local video-blogger, Casey, and eventually police and media cameras.
Found footage films tend to have one big problem: if we’re outside and away from security cameras, we have no way of seeing the protagonist unless the camera is constantly switching hands. This can be solved like the guys did in Kurt Josef Wagle and the legend of the fjord-witch, where the camera-man, Pablo, never says a word and that’s part of the gag. This might be a bit difficult in a serious film. District 9 made the choice of going half-and-half, slipping in real film-shots between news and phone footage. This I liked a great deal, but it means sacrificing what little “realism” the found footage gives.
Another big problem with found footage is justifying the camera’s continued presence. When do the protagonists decide to throw away the camera and simply run for their lives? Most horror films in the genre tend to have several lines of “turn off the camera!” followed by “I need to document this shit!” or something to that effect.
Chronicle solves both of these problems with one character: Andrew. His need to document everything stems both from his shyness – he uses the camera as a barrier to the world – and his fascination with his new gift. He begins testing his powers on the camera itself, and suddenly we see our protagonist clearly, and get the first completely steady shots I can remember seeing in a found footage film. Andrew stares into the camera with a haunted look, and when he edits his footage one can’t help but wonder if he’s filming his whole life in an attempt to find something in himself. He makes the film more than just a few hours of friends messing about.
Those early moments of messing about, however, really sell the concept. It feels genuine. Andrew, for example, takes a while to get a new camera after the incident in the hole, and so we catch up to them after they have made their initial discovery. Refreshingly, the film does not stuff too much stilted exposition into the first half, although I was surprised they didn’t go with a popular reference instead of actually looking up the definition of telekinesis.
The second half doesn’t abandon the found footage concept, but I actually liked this as well, since you had the sensation of being one in the crowd and trying to get a good look. I did see a couple of shots near the end that had no “explanation” as such, but by then you’ve sort of forgotten where all the cameras are. The film might not hit the tone with everyone, especially since it’s a film that doesn’t have a likable protagonist. Matt is the one we are suppose to like, but the actor who plays him I found to be the weakest of the three.
To sum up: Even people who are allergic to found footage films can see this and not freak out completely. I personally felt a bit disconnected at times, and like the barrier between Andrew and the world, I felt a slight barrier between myself and the world of the characters.
Dice roll: 4