Friday, March 2, 2012


Second only to 3D, the current trend of "found footage" movies is one of my biggest pet peeves in filmmaking today. When done well, it can immerse the viewer into the story, but it's used so often these days it feels like a gimmick to cover up an otherwise weak story. Thankfully, Chronicle is among those movies that uses the technique well, even though the found footage gimmick does prove to be distracting from time to time.

Lets get one thing out of the way. Despite what the ads suggest, Chronicle is not an action movie. It's actually a somewhat dark drama about a troubled teenager. At the start of the film, we see a kid named Andrew filming himself in the mirror. He's decided he's going to film everything as a way of dealing with his problems. His father is an alcoholic, his mother is terminally ill, and the only person even close to being his friend is his cousin Matt, and even he thinks Andrew is too weird to deal with. This all changes when Matt, Andrew and a third student named Steve come across a mysterious glowing rock that gives them all telekinetic abilities. 

Instead of following the cliche of deciding to become superheroes with their new powers, the three teenagers do what most of us would probably do with special abilities. They just use them to play around. While Matt and Steve are content to just leave it at that, Andrew finds himself struggling to keep himself in check as he deals with his rage from having an abusive father and from being bullied at school. 

This is where the found footage aspect of Chronicle really shines. The majority of the movie is shot from Andrew's camera, and you really do get a sense of what he is going through, as a result. We see him get bullied. We see him try to fit in. We see that he really wants to be a good kid, but at the same time we see him deal with the fact he has powers that he could use to hurt the people who hurt him. As he starts to lose his sense of self restraint, you still maintain a sense of empathy for him.

Unfortunately, at times the found footage gimmick strains itself as the story has to bend over backwards to  work in reasons why the characters are constantly filming themselves. For example, there's a female character who just happens to be an avid video blogger. This rather conveniently allows the director to cut back and forth between her filming Andrew, and vice versa, when they're having conversations. Worse yet, there's a huge fight scene near the end of the movie that takes place in Downtown Seattle, and one character uses his powers to surround himself with cameras stolen from visitors to the Space Needle. It serves no logical point to the story, other than to give the director more angles to shoot a dramatic dialogue exchange from, and still maintain the found footage plot device.

The found footage thing works best in films like The Blair Witch Project, where it's integral to the plot that the characters constantly film themselves, or like in Cloverfield, where an incredible event is happening in a short period of time, and it only makes sense that somebody would want to film everything. For Chronicle, the filmmakers may have been better off taking notes from District 9, a film where they used found footage as more of a framing device to set up the story, and shooting the film conventionally for scenes where it just didn't make sense for a camera to constantly be around.

Despite the occasional awkward instance of trying to force the camera into the scene as part of the story, Chronicle is overall a well shot, well acted movie about a teenager who just wants a chance a living a normal happy life in spite of his circumstances. I look forward to seeing more from the director, the writers and the actors of this movie.

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