I find it kind of irritating that of the five weekends this year so far, two of the number one films have been found footage movies. First was The Devil Inside, which looks painfully awful. Then Chronicle won the box office this past weekend. While I actually liked Chronicle, I wish this found footage crap would go away. The entire time I was watching this film I wondered why couldn’t they just have shot it with a more conventional method?
And that question feels weird as I type it. Especially because I watched Drive again this weekend, a movie which took a rather by the books story and then created a spectacular film out of it by putting it together in a very unconventional way. And that approach made it one of the best movies of last year. I would love more filmmakers to create movies with the Drive mindset. But the found footage genre has been so played out by this point, that its previously unconventional manner has now become something of a tiresome practice. Especially with the logistics of Chronicle…
Most of these found footage films start off with some cliche title card saying “The events that you are about to watch were found in the aftermath of blah blah blah.” Or, “What you are about to see is police evidence in the investigation of blah blah BLAH“. And then you are supposed to be in the mindset that what you are seeing is some true thing, non-manufactured in Hollywood, different than a regular movie. This kind of crappy method of production does have some charm in certain places, but now it feels overdone. Chronicle, however, has no such title card. It just starts out with one of the characters turning on his camera, and the movie is under way. But the thing about it is, later in the film; we start to see the movie through another camera. Just some minor character’s camera for her blog. Then we start to see it through security cameras. Then by the time the finale comes along, we are seeing it from random people’s camcorders and phone cameras. Is this supposed to be an assembly of footage from a bunch off random sources? Who assembled it? What was the purpose of assembling it? Is it supposed to be government documentation of a bizarre incident? Who are we, the audience, supposed to be to have stumbled upon this footage? Is this just a needless exercise? Why did it HAVE to be shot this way?
There are some scenes that would completely benefit from having it though the character’s camera. Like the scene were he’s spitting philosophical rants about apex predators and crushing a car. That would make sense because otherwise he would just be talking to no one (though, there would have been charm in the character being totally crazy like that). And when the kids first discover their powers, I found it reasonable that they would record their early exploits. Makes sense in this YouTube generation of teens. And it would have been fine to change the style and insert those into the film when appropriate. But for the most part the found footage angle is pointless. In addition to that, the characters in the film are constantly wasting time addressing that the camera is there. “Why are you filming this?!” or “Hey, hold on, I’m going to bring the camera!” are things that have to literally be said aloud in order to justify the found footage angle in parts.
But pushing aside the found footage angle of the film, I thought it was a pretty nice little story, told in a short running time. Starts off kind of slow, but it has some pretty necessary character development in the first 15 minutes or so. If you don’t know what it’s about, it’s a story about three teens that get exposed to an ambiguous, glowing blue thing in a hole, and they develop telekinesis. At first they just use it for childish mayhem, but one of the characters is a bullied, beaten-down dude, who eventually just starts to snap. And he uses his new powers to get revenge at the world that hasn’t treated him very well thus far. That’s the most interesting storyline of the film, and the main one. It was actually a pretty decent character study of the abused kid.
And like I said earlier, it starts slow, but builds momentum at a great pace. All of the plot developments seemed logical to me. At least from a fiction standpoint. The film has a great ending as well. Very tense. Not the very last shot, which I thought was frivolous, but the climactic action sequence. An action sequence that jumped around from the perspective of so many random cameras that it didn’t even feel like a found footage film anymore. Which only furthered my frustration that this was shot that way in the first place. Like what camera was shooting high definition close-ups of the kid’s face in the middle of that carnage? How was anyone getting clean audio? Suspension of disbelief aside, this movie slightly shot itself in the foot with the way it was shot. I actually really liked a lot about this movie, but for some reason I can’t get over the fact that it was shot the way it was! And I’m not just saying this as a stubborn hater of found footage films. I DON’T hate them actually. But when there’s a clear case of picking a shooting style merely for the gimmick of it all, then I have a problem with it. Here, this might sum up my complaint succinctly: I didn’t think that the found footage shooting style helped the story in any way. There.
I know this review was kind of overly negative, but I would actually recommend Chronicle to most people. It’s entertaining; it’s got some neat effects, likable characters, a slight sense of whimsy, and a tense ending. It’s only 80 minutes long. And since it’s PG-13, the kids don’t use their superpowers for the horribly raunchy things that a teenager would actually use in reality. So it’s kind of an inoffensive little film that feels like more like it belongs in the summer than it does in February. This is always the worst time of the year for movies, but Chronicle is the best thing to come out of 2012 so far.
So ignore my little rant about found footage films, and check out this movie if it looks appealing to you. I just hope you aren’t as distracted by the gimmick as I was.
8 out of 10