Chronicle OR: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Telekinesis
Friday, February 10, 2012 Leave a comment
Though the style may be running rampant recently, I must admit that I am a fan of the “found footage” gimmick. Something about the whole let’s-all-pretend-just-for-like-an-hour-and-a-half-that-this-is-actually-happening shtick makes for some creative (if contrived) uses of camera and sound that often have the effect of making the ridiculous seem tangible. With the debatable exception of “Cloverfield,” most found footage films thus far have been of the horror persuasion. “Chronicle,” the latest release to utilize the style, is more of a high-school-set action/dramedy. Is this where found footage films jump the proverbial shark, or does this gimmicky style still have some battery life left in its camera?
“Chronicle” follows lonely, Seattle-based teenager Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) after his acquisition of a high end consumer-grade video camera. He decides to start filming habitually, as many do when they get a shiny new toy (and when they are the focus of a found footage movie). On the eve of a kickin’ rave, Andrew is asked by his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and Matt’s friend, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), to use his camera to record this crazy thing that fell out of the sky and crashed in some nearby woodlands. They go to check it out, the thing starts acting weird, and before you know it everyone’s got superpowers. Telekinetic superpowers, if you want to get specific.
As previously admitted, I am a fan of the whole found footage thing. The novelty of it may be wearing thin, but as long as there’s a solid story with charismatic characters played by actors that can convincingly give a naturalistic performance, it works for me. Thankfully, “Chronicle” meets that standard handily. The success of the style rests pretty heavily on the ability of the cast to make the events unfolding on camera feel believable and immediate, and the cast of “Chronicle” mostly manages to do so with a great sense of friendship-chemistry. The characters may be archetypal to the high school experience, but they all rest within their archetypes with a sense of understated groundedness that helps them feel like real people. The way they experiment with their new abilities is particularly effective, as it is exactly how you’d think a bunch of modern teenagers WOULD experiment with telekinesis. It’s playful, genuine, and a lot of fun to watch.
All of this would be impressive in any movie, but the found footage style does enhance the effect to some degree. Andrew’s use of his camera actually works as an extension of his character, and it’s placement and motion develops alongside his abilities. The thematic justification alone makes the style feel more artistically applicable here than in most other films from the found footage camp, even if it does feel a bit forced at times. The problem is simultaneously alleviated and aggravated in the third act, when the source of the cameras filming the action shifts around a variety of different sources (some of them mildly puzzling). It adds a stylistic variety previously unseen in such movies, and it works to mostly great effect.
While it’s not a perfect movie, “Chronicle” is a great time for found footage fans. Even if you’re getting tired of the gimmick or you just never cared for it in the first place, the story and characters present here are definitely worth spending some time with. The effects are a bit shoddy most of the time, especially for a wide-release studio film (they pale in comparison to “Cloverfield,” for instance), but the action is well paced and creative. If you’re itching for some super-powered goodness to tide you over until Batman, Spiderman, and the Avengers show up later this year, I think you’ll enjoy the more grounded take that “Chronicle” has to offer in the meantime.
Unless you get motion sickness easily. If that’s the case, though, you’ve probably learned to stay away from found footage movies by now. Don’t want you throwing up all over the theater. Floor’s sticky enough as it is.