Found footage movies, for better or worse, are now here to stay. So common is this film making technique that the immediacy of such films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield has been diluted. Where it was once refreshing (it’s hard to imagine now that there were some who thought Blair Witch was legitimate), it has now bordered toward derision. Audiences are attuned to the illusion. The cinema-verite punch seldom works any more.
So Chronicle has much riding against it, yet general critical consensus has been surprisingly positive for a film that can be easily be summed up as Cloverfield with super-powers (minus the giant city-trashing monster). Impressive considering it had barely been a blip on the radar a couple of months back. The overriding question is this: is Chronicle actually any good? Yes it is. Is it as good as critics have lead us to believe? No – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Story-wise, we see three teenagers, cousins Matt and Andrew and their buddy Steve, discover what may or may not be an alien entity buried underground. After contact, they develop all manner of super-powers, including telekinesis and levitation. Yet, as Uncle Ben said in Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility and when one of the trio begins to display mental instability, things invariably take a turn for the worse.
It’s nice to see a film moving the found footage motif away from the horror genre, although there are moments of horror to be found. It quickly becomes apparent that this type of film making still has the aptitude to distil a sense of dread, despite Chronicle being science fiction. It also helps that the chief antagonist, loner Andrew, can be deeply unsettling. Told predominantly through his perspective, it’s obvious what he will become by the film’s final act, yet through seeing his fractured home life (his father is abusive) and alienation at school, it’s hard not to empathise with a kid who, through no major fault of his own, has become isolated and unappreciated. By the midway point, his turn to the ‘dark side’ is a foregone conclusion.
It’s by this half way point, however, that you begin to question the point of using the found footage gimmick at all. In a time where every third film utilises this technique, it’s reached a stage where even the best of these movies struggle to justify the need for it. An argument can easily be made that Chronicle could function equally well filmed through conventional means, perhaps even more so as, during much of the latter half, the action is shot through multiple devices (including news copters and camera phones), much like a conventional film, conveniently avoiding the usual trappings of telling a story from one perspective (something Cloverfield managed by shooting ten minute action scenes through different takes and blending them into one composited shot).
But to chastise what is ultimately a very confident and well-made movie purely on its chosen filmic techniques is unfair. There are other flaws to be found, with the acting being slightly ropey at times and the pace waning somewhat during the back end of the second act, but what it does well it does with quiet conviction. Despite some big set-pieces, it’s not showy or up itself and delivers the goods you’d expect from a movie involving super-human teenagers.
The pros definitely outweigh the cons. As an entertaining romp for a Friday night, you can do much, much worse.
Best scene: The climactic fisticuffs between Andrew and Matt is impressively epic.