Since The Blair Witch Project in 1999, ‘found footage’ films have been proved to work very well with horror: they create efficient suspense, effortlessly hide what should be kept unseen and places the audience directly in the shoes of the terrified protagonist/owner of the camera. Now, studios are experimenting with other genres such as fantasy/science-fiction (Chronicle) and comedy (Project X).
Chronicle uses the style quite well: the camera is there to make us deeply identify with Andrew (Dane DeHaan) – a shy and slightly anti-social boy with family problems – as he finds a way to finally express his anger at the world. He achieves this through telekinesis, an ability that he develops with two fellow high school students after venturing into a mysterious hole. Andrew’s progressive mastering of the (super)power leads to an interesting move from a fun teenage comedy to a dark drama.
The lack of camera coverage that comes with found footage films is, here, resourcefully handled through a montage of images from different sources (other cameras, iPhones, news footage…). Moreover, the narrative allowed for nice crane shots thanks to Andrew’s use of telekinesis. In this way, that is on a technical level, Chronicle was brilliantly done. The special effects looked very realistic and the film generally proved to be very crafty and original.
However, narratively, something was missing. The characters were realistic, but somehow not always believable. The story was appealing but not moving or particularly thought-provoking. Maybe this comes from a slight lack of maturity on the part of a young, yet otherwise promising set of filmmakers, or maybe Chronicle should have been a TV series rather than an 84 minute-long film. This would have allowed more time for character development; writers could have expanded on deeper themes and personal struggles; and the narrative wouldn’t have featured what was probably the quickest super-villain death in history.
Furthermore, it often felt like the filmmakers were trying slightly too hard to put cameras in places that would not normally have been caught on film. There was also a plot hole that could have been better handled: if the power-giving hole was being surveilled by the authorities, surely, people other than the three teenagers (policemen, scientists or government officials) should have developed superpowers, or at least know about them…
In the end, Chronicle is definitely an original and entertaining film that provide a nice twist on superhero stories. It just lacks a certain depth in its story and characterization that would render it more memorable and suitable for multiple viewings.