Last year we declared the found footage to be well and truly over, with the release of André Øvredal’s The Troll Hunter. Between The Troll Hunter and Apollo 18 the gimmick had been run in to the ground, with the heady heights of “genre”-classics such as Cloverfield and The Blair-Witch Project but distant memories. But, and bearing that in mind, Chronicle actually appealed upon promotion. The combination of found footage with the superhero genre is one that has surprisingly gone untapped before now, and the potential offered from the amalgamation appetising to say the least.
Chronicle revolves around three teenagers that stumble across a mysterious occurrence that leaves them with powerful superhuman abilities, with the film charting their introductory adventures with said superpowers. As they come to terms with their abilities the three teens take very different paths, ultimately leading up to a scenario in which the three are at odds with each other, emotionally and morally. Andrew, a typical angst-ridden teenager, whose mother is ill and father abusive finds that the powers liberate him completely, giving the once aimless and unpopular student the sort of freedom that he’s never been afforded. Yet he is the one that is also the most vulnerable of the group, with the age old declaration that “With great power comes great responsibility” the ideal punchline to the premise laid down by the character.
As with any film in the found footage tradition, the crux of the plausibility of the project rests on how convincing the set-up is. Why is Character X carrying a camera all of the time? How is all of this material being captured? These are the two fundamental questions that require a straight answer for any found footage flick to succeed. Unfortunately Chronicle stretches the realms of plausibility to their very limits, and ultimately fails in this basic area, leaving an awkward shadow hanging over the rest of the movie. While it ultimately does pull itself back from the brink before the end credits roll, it’s hard to treat something that the filmmakers themselves don’t treat seriously with anything other than contempt (we lost count of the amount of jokes made about how convenient the whole thing was; just because the filmmakers question the plot holes it doesn’t give them a license to use them). It’s all far too convenient, with the Camera Convenience Factor (CCF) pushed to its very limits. That said, a third act, city-wide battle captured on everything from cell-phones to security cameras is extremely impressively constructed.
As an entry in to the superhero cinema pantheon Chronicle provides an interesting take on the origin story in spite of ticking pretty much every box in the great list of superhero cliches. Angsty homelife – Check. Bit of an outsider – Check. Superpowers lead to popularity – Check. Struggle to control power – Check. Experimenting with powers montage – Check. That being said, the new perspective offered by the found film footage when it comes to portraying some of these scenarios gives an air of freshness not often afforded this most cliché strewn of genres, with such rights of passages as learning to fly given especial precedence thanks to the unique viewpoint afforded by the first person-esque camerawork. It’s a similar summation with regards to the aforementioned final act climactic scenario, which sees the two surviving teens, one that has predictably enough strayed to the dark side, and the other who remains the perennial Superman, fight it out on the streets of Seattle. Any distractions (crumby effects, terrible performances) are lost in the spectacle, and it is genuinely engaging.
Chronicle, following in the tradition of such other subversive Superhero movies such as Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, and M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable manipulates some of the genre’s greatest conventions nicely. Basic costume politics lead the way, with the standard blue signifying the good guys, and shades of grey marking out those who might not be so good. A post-modern spin on the Lois Lane type also pops up, only now she’s a video-blogger, conveniently enough capturing all of the action that our protagonist isn’t savvy to. The passing off of superpowers as magic is a nice touch too, not to mention genuinely plausible, and while ultimately the positives do outweigh the negatives, it’s difficult to muster a recommendation for Josh Trank’s movie.