The found footage technique of film-making is one that has mostly been associated with Horror movies; from the film that kicked it all off, The Blair Witch Project, to the lucrative Paranormal Activity franchise. It has rarely ventured into other genres as, lets be honest, it is a technique that is very well suited for generating scares. Horror movies use the frantic handheld effect to create a sense of panic, whilst at the same time using static positioned surveillance cameras to generate an atmosphere and crank up the suspense. If it does so well to create a believable world within ludicrous scenarios in the horror genre, it does beg the question as to why no one has applied it to other genres, namely Sci-Fi. Well, now someone has in the form Chronicle; a Sci-Fi Action Superhero movie which appears to have come from nowhere, and does more for the found footage technique than any Paranormal Activity‘s ever could.

The film is viewed through various camera positions, mainly the main protagonist’s (Dane DeHaaan’s Andrew) Diary Cam as three High School Senior’s, loner Andrew, Andrew’s more socially in-tune cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the popular yet sincere Steve (Steve Montgomery) come across a mysterious crater in the ground. After investigating and finding a strange, supposedly alien, object within, the three boys find themselves developing strange and unique abilities. They discover that not only can they move objects with their minds, but they can manipulate their telekinetic abilities to both shield themselves and achieve the ability of flight. The boys document their abilities as they continue to develop and grow stronger. But what started out as a means of joking around soon escalates into something much more dangerous, as the troubled Andrew grows more powerful and begins to lose control.

The film could have easily been a ‘power-corrupts’ tale, but it manages to bypass that cliche by creating an effective and rather tragic back drop for Andrew. Writer/director Josh Trank and fellow scriptwriter Max Landis (son of John) have managed to craft an emotionally involving, thoroughly entertaining and exhilarating take on the superhero genre. It genuinely works as a much better Superhero origins tale then most of the established comic-book movies in today’s rather comic-book centric movie culture on a fraction of the budget. We seem to have a new comic-book  adaptation every other month, not that I’m complaining, I’m a huge fan of comic-book movies, but it is very refreshing to see an original take on the superhero genre done in such an interesting style.

Chronicle would have worked perfectly well as a film in the traditional sense, yet it manages to make the found footage element seem relevant by expanding the capabilities of the technique in a way we’ve never seen before. Due to the abilities of the characters, there is no need for someone to always be behind the camera, leading to camerawork which is much more involving whilst maintaining the tension of a handheld effect, expect this time we have a floating effect. What would have been a static shot in your normal run-of-the-mill found-footage horror becomes instantly that much more fluid, leading to a more exciting experience. The static becomes cinematic. The hand-held camera technique works wonders in scenes in which we are left in the company of Andrew, generating an unsettling atmosphere through the gliding movements of the telekinetic-ally-held camera. The technique also makes the more exciting elements sizzle, particularly when the group learn to fly. Never has a film quite generated the experience of human flight in the way Chronicle does. It’s exactly as you imagine it would be if you had such an ability, it is an exhilarating and rather awe-inspiring sequence. Superman may have made you believe a man could fly; Chronicle lets you experience it.   

The most fun from the film comes from the earlier moments in which we witness the three guys testing out their new abilities in a matter of ways; be it moving cars or messing around in supermarkets, forming a unique friendship, albeit one that has moments of friction. It captures the giddy spirit that one would have if they suddenly found themselves with such abilities. Who wouldn’t mess about and just have fun with them? It is an incredibly human take on the superhero origin tale, and an element which some superhero movies tend to miss out on; why not just have fun with the powers, with no consequences and no lives to save? The film, however, does contain a foreboding sense of danger as the three friends soon begin to realise their full capabilities. And sure enough, when one of them begins to fully embrace that potential, the shit hits the fan. However, as I stated earlier, this is far from a power corrupts tale. Behind all the Sci-Fi action and found-footage hi-jinks, this is a teenage drama. Far from being the villain of the piece, Andrew is a tortured and disturbed teen, who goes through a Carrie-esque experience. His intentions are for the best, yet his hostile nature and over-whelming power soon get the better of him, and it truly is tragic. As a friend and I noted, there are some shades of Akira in the narrative, which makes the film familiar yet inventive through it’s depiction of the story material.

The sense of foreboding truly explodes in spectacular fashion in the final act of the movie. While the action is quick paced and exciting, this is a point of the film where I found the found-footage over-played a tad too much. Throughout the film we have been used to experiencing the action through two different camera sources, yet in the final act we experience it through all manners of camera devices; from iPhones, to police helicopters, to surveillance cameras. While it can be seen as a rather skillful use of editing, and it has to be commended for that, it is also too over-whelming, making it hard for the audience to keep track of which viewpoint we are actually viewing the action from, coupled with the fairly low-budget CGI (although that isn’t too much of a distraction), the action becomes a bit messy at parts. However, it is only in the final act that you feel the film would have worked better as a traditional movie, otherwise the movie is incredibly innovative in the way it employs the found-footage technique, proving that it can work outside of horror (we also have the upcoming Project X, which employs the technique to a teen comedy). Trank is very much a director to keep an eye on, and if the recent rumors are anything to go by, I think he would be more than capable of bringing the Fantastic Four back to the big screen (he couldn’t do any worse could he?). Trank and Landis have created a stunning and thoroughly entertaining superhero teen drama, which makes you think twice about the use of found-footage as a film technique. And it should also be noted that this should be the closest Hollywood ever comes to remaking Akira. 

4/5- A Hollywood Superhero movie with a refreshing Indie spirit; Chronicle, for the most part, mixes Teen Drama and Sci-Fi action to optimum effect, with an original and highly innovative take on the ‘found-footage’ style. This is a film which will be rather hard to forget.