The genre of superhero movies is one of my favorites, as is the sub-genre known as the “found footage” genre, so I think you can estimate my level of excitement when I saw the brilliantly edited trailer for the new film, Chronicle. Now, there’s quite a bit of hate for the found footage genre, and I can definitely see why. The shaky camera, the sometimes phony looking thrills, and the overall bad reputation the genre has had since its inception all sway the public opinion far enough so that found footage films border on hated.
Both 2010 and 2011 brought us seventeen found footage films each year, and in 2012, the number is up to about ten. I think I can fairly assume that found footage is here to stay, at least for a couple more years. The Paranormal Activity films have grossed an insane amount of money with minuscule budgets, and other horror films like the Spanish found footage film REC, as well as films like Cannibal Holocaust, Man Bites Dog, The Blair Witch Project, August Underground, and the original Paranormal Activity are considered to be modern horror classics. On a side note, my favorite found footage movie is definitely Trash Humpers, and I definitely recommend that to any film buffs who haven’t already seen it.
Getting back on track (I could talk about found footage for days), 2012 probably has the biggest variety of found footage films. Chronicle is a superhero movie, Paranormal Activity 4 is a horror movie, Area 51, Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli’s follow up film, is a sci fi flick, and Project X, is the first of its kind as a comedy found footage flick. Now, you nitpicky bastards out there are going to cite The Virginity Hit, right? I honestly don’t think that counts, as there are some regular steady cam shots in the film, which is essentially breaking form. With that criteria in mind you could call American Beauty a found footage film.
Chronicle follows three teenagers who probably wouldn’t have become so close if not for a hole in the ground. Emotionally damaged teenager, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) decides to purchase a camera to record everything in his life, but mostly the drunkenly violent tendencies of his alcoholic father. After sustaining an injury while working as a fireman, Richard Detmer (Michael Kelly), spends his time at home taking care of Andrew’s sickly mother, Karen (Bo Petersen).
Andrew’s cousin, Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) convinces Andrew to go to a rave one day. Andrew insists that he bring his camera, and begins to film the party. There, he meets Casey Letter (Ashley Hinshaw), one of his classmates who is also filming the party for her blog. The two meet briefly, but it’s obvious that Matt is the one interested in her, not Andrew. He walks away and begins filming more, and after a physical altercation with a man who thinks Andrew is filming his girlfriend, he resigns to the parking lot, accepting the fact that he really just can’t make any friends. Suddenly, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), who is front runner for class president, approaches Andrew and asks him to come film something that he and Matt found.
Now I don’t want to spoil what the object in the ditch is, because it’s pretty freaking cool. What I can say, though, is that the boys develop superpowers, and begin to flex what they theorize is a mental muscle. In short, it’s telekinesis, and it makes them virtually indestructible. But instead of using the powers for the good of mankind, they just decide to do cool and often stupid things with them, but as they get stronger, complications in their relationship arise, causing Andrew to inherit rage that is sometimes beyond his control.
Chronicle is equal parts origin flick, accurate high school comedy, and harrowing family drama. With an excellent script and equally impressive direction by first time filmmakers Max Landis and Josh Trank, Chronicle manages to be a low budget superhero movie that actually works, and goddamn does it work well. Everything from the performances to the pitch perfect dialogue rings absolutely true despite an odd and rather rehashed plot line. The depiction of a modern high school is near perfect, capturing both the angst and a glimpse of popularity all through the eyes of a troubled teen.
Make no mistake of Chronicle‘s motives, because the film isn’t here to tell a story of good and evil. It’s here to tell a story of good intentions through a troubled mind, and the abuse of power in a time of desperation, as well as the importance of family in a difficult and confusing situation. The central performance by Dane DeHaan is absolutely fantastic. Only 24 years old, you may have seen DeHaan on the HBO series In Treatment, but if you haven’t, you’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future. With four 2012 movies on his roster, including my most anticipated film of the year, Wettest Country, DeHaan is going to be getting both A-list billing and treatment in literally no time.
In a world of YouTubers, Microbloggers, iPod, iPad, iPhone, video cameras, camera phones, and even basic things like surveillance cameras are all integral parts of today’s society. We feel an inherent need to document everything, and I think that Chronicle accurately portrays that. It never breaks form, but instead uses various forms of handheld cameras to get its point across, and with a surprising amount of finesse, too. Director Josh Trank could have just switched to regular film and filmed the climactic action sequences that way, but he decided to not take the easy way out and stick with the method he began the film with, and it really does actually pay off.
On a budget of only $15 million dollars, Chronicle does more with the little it’s given than most other similar movies, ($200 million for Green Lantern?! What is that?!), and the CGI is near perfect in my opinion. Walking in I expected an entertaining teen superhero flick but I walked out realizing that I’d just viewed not just a movie, but a film that has meaning and isn’t meant to just be. I recommend Chronicle to anyone who really just likes movies. It’s got the wide spread appeal of a blockbuster, with the mind of an indie flick, a perfect marriage if you ask me.