"Chronicle" a rarity of Found Footage Genre

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Scene from "Chronicle"
Scene from "Chronicle"

With the myriad of terrible “found footage” films we get nowadays (“Apollo 18,” “The Last Exorcism,” and all three “Paranormal Activity” films to name a few), it’s quite refreshing to see one that’s well-done. Such is the case with Josh Trank’s “Chronicle,” a film that uses a similar technique, but actually has an interesting plot and characters to go along with it, which easily puts it in the upper tiers of this done-to-death genre.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a bit of a social outcast. He lives with his sick mother and an alcoholic father and only seems to have one friend, his cousin Matt (Alex Russell). Recently, Andrew has decided to film everything on his new camera. He documents his lonely days at school, getting picked on by bullies, eating lunch alone on the bleachers, but one night, he also brings the camera to a party that he and Matt attend.

During the party, Matt and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a kid from school, want to check out a large hole in the ground that they discovered. Reluctantly, Andrew joins them with his camera. What they find inside is a crystalline object, which, after their encounter with it, gives them strange telekinetic abilities. At first, they use their new abilities for fun such as jokes, magic tricks, and even a bit of flying, but things soon start to spiral out of control as they grow stronger.


For a “found footage” film, “Chronicle” has a story that’s rather hard to sell given its absurdity, which makes it rather impressive that the filmmakers were able to pull it off. What helps sell it in particular are the natural performances from the three lead actors. I can only imagine how silly it must have felt to film this, hoping that the effects that were to be added would be done well enough to make it at least slightly believable.


Indeed, the effects are done quite well, lending a little more weight to the story. The scenes early on of the boys performing tricks and playing little jokes are particularly well-done. There’s a whole scene where Steve and Andrew participate in a talent show and another where one of the boys moves a woman’s car to a different parking spot in which the effects were integrated seamlessly, again making it a little easier to swallow the silliness of the story.


The progression of the story felt like it was at just the right pace. It starts off by introducing the characters and letting us get to know about Andrew’s situation before plunging straight into the superpower storyline. We typically see stories like this that result in the creation of a new superhero, but what would really happen if kids got ahold of powers like these?


“Chronicle” gives a more realistic answer to this question. They obviously keep it secret, for awhile at least, only using their powers when they’re alone together, but eventually, as they realize they can do more and more, things begin to get out of hand, particularly for Andrew, who is going through a very difficult situation at home with his sick mother and drunken father.


The third act goes a little over the top in an all-out battle that features many, many more special effects. The direction that the story takes will seem a bit like an experience of déjà vu to fans of “Akira,” but we do end up getting a satisfying and logical conclusion. Like other films of the genre, this one is short, running only about 75 minutes, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, unlike the films I mentioned at the beginning of this review.


If other filmmakers involved in this genre could put as much time and effort into their story and characters as screenwriter Max Landis and director Josh Trank did here, there’d be a lot more of them worth watching. Unfortunately, most don’t, which is why we end up with factory made “found footage” movies, mostly of the horror genre, that turn out to be awful. “Chronicle” is the rarity where this genre actually works. 3/4 stars.

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