Chronicle (Twentieth Century Fox, PG-13)

film chronicle_smAny found-footage film has to work extra hard to win me over, and Chronicle pretty much did.

 

film chronicle_lg

I’ve always wanted to have telekinetic powers. The ability to move objects with my mind really sparks my imagination. But when I was younger, I didn’t want to be a superhero. I didn’t want to fight evil or anything like that. I just wanted the ability to show off and blow people’s minds. That’s why I was so intrigued by the premise of Chronicle. The story focuses on three high school students who discover a strange underground cavern and then find themselves with superpowers. They use their powers the way most teenagers would: to screw around with people and amuse themselves. Of course, things get out of hand, as they obviously would if teenagers were actually given these abilities. The premise is so simple and cool, I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. Think the first half of Spider-Man expanded into a full-length film, in which Spider-Man still had great power but never took any responsibility.

The only thing to be nervous about here was the style the filmmakers chose. Chronicle is presented in the found-footage format, meaning the characters are the ones filming the events. I am sick of this idea. I was won over by the novelty of it at first. In The Blair Witch Project, the filmmakers used very limited resources very creatively and made something that worked. Blair Witch was not the first time this was done (the technique started with ’70s films like Cannibal Holocaust) but it felt very fresh at the time. What’s strange is that the found footage thing didn’t become a trend until nearly 10 years later. Now, I groan every time I see a trailer for a new found-footage movie. The public at large certainly disagrees. This is the second found-footage film of the very young year, the first being The Devil Inside, the second such exorcism movie of the last two years. It looks abysmal to me and by all accounts I am right, but audiences showed up in droves. The point is, any found-footage film has to work extra hard to win me over, and Chronicle pretty much did.

The question I always ask is whether or not this film needed to be presented as found footage. Do the filmmakers justify the decision in the movie? Chronicle could easily have been made as a straightforward narrative, but the director has fun with the format. The main character frequently controls the camera through telekinesis, which allows for some very interesting shots, some of them reminiscent of the work of Gaspar Noe. Still, there are many times when I could feel the director wanting to break away and just shoot some scenes in a traditional way. Sometimes the camera is set up or moves in ways that cannot be justified, other than that we need to see certain things and sometimes they want to do a dramatic push in. As always, there is the question of why these people are so dedicated to filming everything, and when multiple characters have the same obsession to never stop shooting, it strains credibility. I was reminded of District 9, which began as a mockumentary but then abruptly and without warning shifted into a traditional film. Some people call that a cheat, but I was glad that Niell Blomkamp freed himself up and didn’t waste time justifying cameras that would never be present. I was hoping Chronicle would do the same thing, but it didn’t.

I’m spending so much time on the technique of the film, I should probably get to the film itself. It’s actually kind of great. The three main leads are all unknown to me and I liked them all. Their characters are surprisingly deep, and I was amazed how much I ended up caring about them. The film gets a lot darker than you may think, and I appreciated that it stuck to its guns. The climactic battle seems a bit rushed, and you can feel the filmmakers desperately scrambling to get more cameras into the scene in order to cover everything. The format remains a hindrance, but Chronicle has so much going for it that I could look past that, and ultimately I liked the film quite a bit. So imagine how good it will be to people who aren’t sick of found footage. | Sean Lass

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