With the exception of 3D, found footage seems to be one of the most overused of Hollywood gimmicks. It’s certainly true that there are some good examples, like [REC], Undocumented, and TrollHunter, but most of the time it doesn’t actually help the story (which is usually weak to start with) and only serves to introduce plot holes. Chronicle is the latest entry in the string of found footage titles, and while it’s a good movie, the found footage element is yet again unnecessary and detracting.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a high school student with a pretty crappy life. His mother is bedridden and near death. His father had been a fireman before he got into an accident and retired on disability insurance, but now spends most of his time drunk and violently taking out his frustrations on Andrew. It’s gotten bad enough that he bought a video camera and has decided to begin filming his entire life. This didn’t do much to help his social status at school, where he was already something of an outcast, and his constant filming is yet another excuse for him to get bullied.
Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) is friends with star athlete and class presidential candidate Steve (Michael B. Jordan), and they enlist Andrew (or more accurately, the video camera that comes with him) to go with them to investigate a weird hole they found in the ground near a party. When they investigate, they find what appears to be some kind of alien craft, and after this one brief encounter with it, they discover that they have acquired some kind of telekinetic powers. They can manipulate things using only their minds, and while their first attempts are typical high school pranks, they quickly move beyond that and start to exploit their powers for other purposes.
I was quite pleasantly surprised by the direction that the film took. While it had a brief (but still fun) stint in Zapped! territory (in which Scott Baio develops telekinetic powers, but primarily uses them to manipulate women’s clothing), I was glad to see it progress into more significant and intellectually stimulating uses. It’s most definitely not a run-of-the-mill sci-fi thriller, and I would not have predicted its ultimate direction from its trailer.
While the story is something that I quite enjoyed, I did find the “found footage” aspect of it to be somewhat annoying and completely unnecessary. I think that the story could have been told just as effectively from a completely third-person perspective, and without the need for them to keep inventing reasons for the characters to have cameras, and coming up with ways to get interesting shots from those cameras. There were cases in which it seemed unnatural to have a camera capturing the action, and some of what was recorded would very likely not have been accessible to whatever unseen editor put together all of the footage to create what we ultimately got to see as the movie.
Although the found footage element was ultimately detrimental to the film, the quality of the story and the acting make it possible to overlook those problems. We are then left with a very decent film, and one that I expect would be entertaining to teens and adults alike.