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Chronicle (2012) – Found Footage for the Masses

User Rating: 6.5

Chronicle is a film about three friends who, through contact with a strange glowing object discovered in a cave, gain superhuman powers. The movie documents the different ways in which the friends develop and use their new abilities, which include telekenesis, flight, and resistance to physical injury (though that last power seems to manifest itself inconsistently throughout the story).

The three main characters and the supporting roles (video blogger girl, abusive father, sickly mother) are somewhat cliched, but acted competently. The stand-out for me was Andrew (Dane DeHann) who was pretty convincing as the rage-filled angsty teenager. The worst was Andrew’s father (Michael Kelly, whom I love as an actor), who was about as one-dimensional as it is possible to be.

When the boys first gain their powers, they primarily use them for things that you’d expect from high school boys—playing pranks, pushing up girls’ skirts, soaring carefree through the clouds. It takes a darker turn when Andrew discovers that he can use his powers to achieve other less frivolous desires.

The thing that I always ask myself while watching found footage films is “would someone be filming this in real life?” If the answer is anything weaker than “possibly,” then my enjoyment of the film will drop a few notches. I feel like this film was a little weak in that regard—I can certainly understand why the three main characters would want to start filming after they obtained their superpowers, but the footage leading up to that point felt a bit forced. I also wasn’t buying the girl who filmed everything “for her video blog.” Having one character (Andrew) who wants to film everything just because he’s quirky and thinks it’d be neat is forgivable in found footage. Having two of them is just silly. The justifications used for filming were, for me, definitely one of the movie’s weakest aspects.

As far as the cinematography goes, this didn’t always “feel” like a found footage film. Since the characters gained the power of telekenesis, it meant they could float the camera through the air without having to physically hold it. This felt a lot like cheating to me. Is a high school kid who just gained the power of telekenesis really going to have the skill and knowledge to pull off an overhead shot that slowly floats down into a dramatic 360 degree pan, expertly stopping at the perfect angle to frame his head against the late afternoon sun? Not in my book. There was also a scene during the climax involving multiple levitating recording devices (phones and tablets ripped from the hands of unfortunate bystanders), allowing for back-and-forth cuts during an important conversation. And even if you forgive the liberties taken with telekenesis, there were other more traditional scenes that felt a bit too polished and edited for found footage as well—there’s a segment with several quick cuts at the beginning of a funeral scene that stood out to me as particularly out of place.

All that being said, while some of those points slightly soured the experience for me as a found-footage-purist, this would probably make an excellent gentle introduction to the genre for someone who’s never seen one before. It introduces the concept of found footage while not straying too far from a traditionally shot narrative film, and its big budget definitely shows in the production quality.

All in all, despite my gripes, I enjoyed the movie. I originally saw it when it hit theaters in 2012, and watched the director’s cut the second time around before writing this review. It’s not one I’d care to own, as I won’t be returning to it for additional viewings, but I definitely recommend it as a cheap rental through your streaming service of choice. If it had been a traditional film I’d have scored it at least a 7/10, but I’m docking points due to the “found footage” aspect feeling like a tacked on gimmick at times, so it gets a 6.5/10.

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