I think it would be safe to say that the gimmick of "found footage" films are quickly wearing thin for me. Sure, it's been an interesting approach to make in a couple of horror films but, along with shakey-cam, I'm pretty much over the poorly framed, jerky, hard-to-watch camera-work. Not to mention the suspension of disbelief you have to enter into with each new found footage film; we're supposed to buy into the fact that someone is going to keep filming while a bunch of crazy-ass stuff is going-on around them and, more often that not, their friends are dying. Not to mention that each of the camera-wielding characters are preternaturally gifted at framing, lighting and recording amazing sound with shitty camera mikes.
It's a technique that has primarily been exposed in horror, with The Blair Witch Project famously kicking it all off back in '99 (though found footage films had been around for awhile before then). Each year seems to bring a new entry, from the Paranormal Activity and [REC] series to one-off films such as Diary of the Dead and The Devil Inside and any number of lesser known, low budget shit-fests. And, like I said, the gimmick is getting tired.
Then again... then again... There have been attempts in recent years to expand the "found footage" movie out of the horror genre where it has found itself trapped recently. Cloverfield gave us a found footage monster movie, while Troll Hunter was a fantasy-monster-adventure-horror flick. And now Chronicle is the found footage superhero movie.
Andrew initially begins recording his life because his mother is sick and dying, while his father is out of work on a disability benefit and often drunk and abusive. He wants to, I dunno, chronicle his sad little life and the abuse he gets from his father. Andrew's best (and, in fact, only friend) is his cousin Matt. Matt is on the opposite side of the spectrum to Andrew; where Andrew is socially awkward, withdrawn and suffers bullying, Matt thinks himself too smart and cool to be bothered with being smart and cool. Andrew is dragged along to a party by Matt in attempt to help bring him out of his shell. Instead, they and popular jock & all-round nice guy Steve discover a weird hole in the ground. This hole leads to a cave, which leads to a weird glowing crystal that zaps them and grants them all superpowers - telekinesis.
The three boys begin to learn how to use and control their newfound powers and find themselves getting stronger and closer to one another. They are all, somehow, connected. The movie never makes any big bones about this or tries to offer up an explanation for it, or any other aspects of their powers - which is a refreshing change from the over-explanation given in most modern blockbusters. These moments of discovery are easily the best moments in the film - when the trio learn to fly, they speed, loop and holler with joy through the clouds. This is also when the found footage conceit really works best, when there are moments captured you feel like you would actually capture yourself. The fact, too, that these guys enjoy their powers and have a blast using them - whether its flying or pulling pranks on unsuspecting folks - it feels far more real and honest than, well, any other reaction in other superhero films. I know if I ever gained superpowers and was able to fly around I would fucking love it.
Things begin to take a turn for the worse as Andrew, a confused boy filled with anger at the world and suffering abuse at home, begins to abuse his powers. In one of the creepier moments in the film, he uses his powers to dangle a spider in mid-air, before torturing and killing it. It's a powerful character moment and says more than any explosive demonstration could. Not even a sudden leap in popularity, helped along by Steve, does him any good. It all culminates in a massive psychic slugfest in downtown Seattle as Matt and Andrew go at it. It's a fairly knock-down, no-holds barred affair with the team making the most of their limited budget. It's a final battle that works as more than just pyrotechnics and noise, as there has been strong character work done by screenwriter Max Landis and the actors to bring us here.
However, as with the majority of these found footage films, is there some sort of unwritten rule that these characters have to be annoying dickbags? Andrew, the main character/villain/camera operator is a snivelling, friendless and largely charisma-free character. There are strongly established reasons for all of this, and Dane DeHaan is fairly fearless in the way he embraces the worst aspects of this character, but it really wore me down. I don't have to agree or like a protagonist but there has to be something there; some sort of reason as to why I should follow this person through the story.
The found footage film is one that ultimately brings attention to itself, by having to explain why everything is being filmed and by having the characters continually address the audience, through the camera. You also have to believe in the innate and flawless skills of these (mostly first-time) camera-men. And in Chronicle the conceit is used fairly loosely - are we really supposed to believe that Andrew's dad wouldn't just simply smash the camera? One character is introduced simply for there to be another camera recording things when Andrew isn't around. Not to mention the fact that the entire conceit gets defenestrated come the final confrontation.
Chronicle is an interesting, intelligent and refreshing examination of the old superhero nuggets of power and responsibility but it never quite reaches as high as I was expecting. Part of that is down to the found footage aesthetic; perhaps if it had only been used sparingly and at certain moments I would have bought it more.