By Julia Thompson
The found-footage genre certainly had its place in the likes of The Blair Witch Project, where the shaky camera and blank screens, accompanied by heavy breathing added to the terror of the film. But that was a horror film. Has it worked for the newly released sci-fi/superhero movie, Chronicle?
Written and directed by Max Landis and Josh Trank, the film centres around three teens from a working-class, dreary-looking corner of America.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan), who looks remarkably like a younger, geekier Leonardo DiCaprio ticks all the boxes on the ‘superhero powers eligibility checklist’: He’s an angsty teen with an abusive father, who’s bullied at school and regularly called a freak.
The film’s gritty beginning, where we see Andrew setting up a video camera in his bedroom and announcing “I’m filming everything now”, while his father bellows angrily through the door is not the usual opening of a superhero film. It is quite refreshing to see the genre portrayed in a more serious way.
Matt (Alex Russell) plays Andrew’s marginally cooler cousin who, we get the impression hangs out with him more out of duty than anything else. Class President and all-round popular guy, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) is the unlikely third member of the group.
The boys are drawn together when they find a giant hole in the ground outside a party one night. There are a few flashes of white light and the next thing we know, they can move objects with their eyes. Andrew, who seems to be obsessed with filming every single facet of his life, captures it all on his old-style VHS camera.
Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) is a character of convenience, a video-blogger friend of Matt’s who always happens to be around and camera-ready, to provide footage if we need a few shots of Andrew. Her appearances gradually die out when the boys manage to make the camera float, enabling it to film all of them.
The telekinetic trio have fun with their powers at first, moving peoples’ cars to different spaces and terrifying children with floating teddy bears. Andrew’s popularity soars at school where he uses his ability to impress his classmates. Things soon start to darken, however. And it is at this point that we realise that this is not just another superhero movie.
Andrew’s angst and frustration soon begin to manifest themselves as the darker side of his power. He forces a car who is tailgating him off the road and into a lake and, while flying with Steve (yes, telekinetic people can also fly!) his rage at his father, who he has managed to overpower for the first time creates a bolt of lightening which kills Steve.
Andrew finally snaps when his father blames him for his mother’s death and goes on a rampage throughout the city. First attempting to murder his father and then making cars fly, helicopters blow-up and buildings collapse. It is here that the film lets me down a bit and loses its thought-provoking grittiness in favour of a bit of blockbuster action. It was like they’d accidentally flicked a switch and put King Kong on instead.
Although the ending was, I feel, a little needlessly dramatic, the film still succeeded in stepping away from the usual sci-fi/superhero formula and managed to blend real issues into a sci-fi film.
As for the found footage style, the camera shake and wonky angles don’t have quite the same effect as they do in a horror like The Blair Witch, as you sit terrified at what you might see when the camera comes back on. But it does add to the grittiness and realism of the film and allows you to see it from a first person point of view, which, in my opinion always makes for better viewing.