Even though it isn't new, the "found footage" sub-genre has become one of the most popular filmmaking trends of recent years. It encompasses all films that presents its events through the perspective of the camera of one of the characters involved. Sparked by the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999, Hollywood has seen a continuous increase of these type of films every year. According to Wikipedia, only six "found footage" films pre-date 1999's Blair Witch, starting with 1980's Cannibal Holocaust. Fast forward to 2012, where at least twelve "found footage" films have been released so far.
The technique has its merits. Even though I've only seen two of these films (the aforementioned Blair Witch Project - which is a favorite of mine - and a little known indie called The Poughkeepsie Tapes), I can see how effective the style can be given the right material. But there's no denying that for some filmmakers and/or studios, it has become a trend, or a gimmick. Even films that don't fall in this sub-genre have found ways to have one or two scenes shot from a first-person, camera point of view. Sometimes, a director and/or writer might feel the need to shoehorn the style to a certain film, just to make it "cool" or "different".
This is the case with Chronicle, a 2012 sci-fi film from director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis. The film follows a trio of high-school teenagers that develop telekinetic superpowers after interacting with what seems to be an asteroid or alien spaceship inside a cave. The teenagers are introverted Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and popular class president Steve (Michael B. Jordan). Initially, the trio begin using their powers just for fun and pranks, until Andrew begins to use it in more aggressive ways. Through all the events, Andrew constantly carries a camera with him, to "document" things. But what starts of as an interesting directing perspective, eventually becomes less and less necessary and, as a result, more and more distracting and annoying towards the final act.
First, Chronicle has a solid enough story and interesting characters to hold the film on its own. All three lead characters feel real and natural, and develop a believable chemistry, despite their differences. Their interactions, and even the choices they make as the film goes on, are understandable within the films universe. One of the things I liked about the film is how, despite realizing they have "superpowers", these teenagers behave like teenagers. Using their powers to blow girls skirts, or play football while flying around in the clouds. There's no Spider-Man philosophy of "great power brings greater responsibility", but instead a group of teenagers having fun.
But as the story progresses, the need for Andrew to hold a camera becomes less organic and believable. To offer an example, there are some scenes which doesn't feature Andrew, but the director introduces a female character with the same camera fetish, to justify the need and the presence of the camera point-of-view during those scenes. This, in turn, ended up feeling very awkward and forced on. The film continues to prove how unnecessary the gimmick is as the film enters its climax, where the presence of a camera becomes even more ridiculous.
Also, even though Andrew's character is presented as a bullied and volatile person, there's a bit of an awkward shift from the middle to the last act that felt, well, awkward. Add to that the ridiculousness I mentioned above about the need of a camera despite what was happening in the end, and the final act ended up feeling quite muddled and messy. It's a shame because, like I said, I thought Landis had a solid story here, but it got dragged down by shoehorning the "found footage" gimmick.
Overall, the film wasn't downright awful. Like I said, the story was solid, the performances were good, I liked the different approach they gave to the "superhero" formula; even the "found footage" style could've worked for a lot of scenes. But the need to stick to it, regardless of anything, knocked this film a couple of notches down. The film could've mixed it with regular direction and be just as effective, maybe even more. Grade: B-
(All pictures belong to 20th Century Fox and its affiliates)