It’s weird to think of how far the found footage genre has come. From early small cult films (Blair Witch Project, Cannibal Holocaust) to big budget affairs such as Chronicle. The genre has blown up lately which is a good thing for it and a bad thing. With the blow up of the genre has also come with backlash. Some critics and people are getting tired of them and it is just a matter of time before the “fad” is over. But is it really a “fad”? There is something about the genre that is just so appealing to me and many other people. There is something so intimate about seeing a story from a person’s point of view. No matter what it is the genre needs strong films to survive. Movies that not only justify the genre but also innovates it. Chronicle is exactly what the genre needed. A movie that claims to be apart of it but also a movie that transcends it.
The story is fairly simple if you take it at face value. Three boys mysteriously get special powers and start to control and grow them. The fun ends when one of the boys starts to go rogue, which leads to a climax that pits the friends against each other. It’s only when the movie begins that you forget about what you know about the movie from the previews and become immersed in a sad tale of a boy trapped in a desolate and hopeless world. The movie revolves around Andrew (brilliantly played by Dane DeHaan) who has the camera in which most of the film is filmed with. Andrew is a likable guy with some major family problems but he doesn’t let that hurt his disposition as he buys a camera and decides to “chronicle” his life. He doesn’t have many friends and is sort of a loner. It isn’t until him and two others (Matt and Steve) stumble upon a mysterious hole and are given powers that he starts to enjoy the life he films. The first 45 minutes or so are sort of a whimsical experience as the boys challenge their limits and become acquainted with their new powers. The first half of the movie is fun not because of the powers on display but because of the people who display them. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan are excellent young talents and with lesser actors, Chronicle would have probably been a one trick pony.
Then the movie turns south and I won’t explain further. You have to see it unfold for yourself but it is a painful experience that leads to a climax that is both accelerating and gut wrenching. Chronicle’s last act isn’t just awe and spectacle; it’s built up tension and emotions. The climax owes its power to the set up, which is the rich character development. The movie takes advantage of the personal feeling of watching somebody’s’ home videos. The characters are the centerpiece of the footage we are exposed too, which makes the conflict between the three something more than just explosions and visual effects. There is real pain and suffering and even when the dust clears, it doesn’t fix every wound. Chronicle is first and foremost a tragedy. A tragedy about the people we forget about and the people who are pushed to far.
I don’t know if the found footage film will survive the backlash but Chronicle is one of the genres reasons for its survival. Chronicle may be about superheroes and it may be made for the younger generation but it champions its characters and the unique viewing experience that it is. I recently watched the first two episodes of The River, which is a found footage T.V. series. It is awful, one of the worst T.V. shows I have seen in a long time and a disgrace to the found footage club. It doesn’t embrace the realism of the genre. It doesn’t seem to want the burden of what it is trying to be. Chronicle doesn’t mind being what it is and what we get in return is one of the most personal and rich dramas to come out of the genre. A masterpiece of things lost and found.