Overview: Three teenagers are granted the power of telekinesis by a mysterious underground object, and their lives become more chaotic as their abilities grow stronger. 20th Century Fox; 2012; Rated PG-13; 83 Minutes
Finding Footage: Ninety-nine percent of found footage films are made for three reasons: They’re cheap, they’re easy, and they’re popular. Paranormal Activity is mostly comprised of a single static shot of an empty room, but it still made a ton of money. For studios, these are films that require little effort to produce but will almost certainly be profitable. It’s rare to find a found footage film which makes the aesthetic thematically relevant. Chronicle is one such film. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) films everything around him, and the film justifies it based on who he is as a person. Andrew is shy and introverted, and the camera allows him to put up a barrier between himself and others (the film is admittedly unsubtle about this, as this point is addressed directly in dialogue.) Chronicle takes an inherent element of cinema (the camera naturally acts as a barrier between an audience and a film) and makes it a literal element of the story. As the film progresses, we start seeing through other cameras besides Andrew’s, emphasizing his growing alienation from the rest of society. Found footage doesn’t feel like a gimmick here; rather, it feels like the only way this story could be told.
Not So Super: Chronicle was a breath of fresh air not just for the stale found footage style, but for superhero movies as well. It was released during a glut of both of those things. And while it uses the former to great effect, it almost seems to be a rebuke to the latter. Superhero origin stories expect audiences to take it for granted that, when granted extraordinary powers, an ordinary person’s first instinct would be to use those powers to fight crime. It’s a nice narrative, but it’s not the least bit realistic. Chronicle exposes the “superhero origin story” for the quixotic fantasy it is. These three teenagers use their mind-blowing abilities entirely for their own amusement. Why? Because that’s why teenagers do most of the things that teenagers do.
Dark Fantasy: Not satisfied with that subversion, the film goes further. Andrew is a fairly direct corollary to Peter Parker. Both are bullied, lonely underdogs. What Chronicle gets right about that type of kid is that it doesn’t depict Andrew as any more mature or moral for being an outcast. Once he has power, he uses it to get what he wants, and he frames his retribution as a kind of evolutionary imperative. The film doesn’t shy away from the darkness of his actions, and it doesn’t try to justify them because of how he’d been treated by others. It’s a brutally honest take on this character type.
Wrap-Up: Chronicle plays in two seemingly worn-out cinematic worlds and makes them both its own.