The superhero film, Chronicle (2012), plays into a stylistic trend in filmmaking that The Blair Witch Project popularized in 1999. I’m referring of course to the “found footage” film, which subsists under the pretense that the footage comprising a fiction film’s narrative was filmed by the characters themselves using their own cameras. This style lends realism to a film, and appeals to horror filmmakers in particular as a low-cost but effective method. For audiences to buy into a found footage film, there obviously has to be some reason why the characters shot the footage in the first place. In Blair Witch, the characters were shooting a documentary. Chronicle, by contrast, opens with one of the main characters declaring simply that he’s “filming everything now.” This thin setup requires the audience to make a bit of a leap, but once you get past this initial contrivance, Chronicle delivers a surprisingly solid superhero narrative.
The film follows three Seattle high schoolers: nerd Andrew, who serves as the video chronicler of the film’s events, his popular cousin Matt, and would-be class president, Steve. This disparate group stumbles upon a mysterious object one night after a rave that imbues them with telekinetic abilities. As they learn to manipulate their newfound powers, the three boys gain super strength, the ability to fly, and virtual invulnerability. The bulk of the narrative centers realistically on their attempts to cope with the responsibility that comes with their powers and find practical uses for their telekinesis, the latter of which proves particularly difficult for them. The central conflict resulting in the film’s climax rises naturally out of the characters’ individual dilemmas, not to mention the obvious tensions created by such a group dynamic as that detailed at the beginning of this paragraph.
Honestly, that the conflict developed as naturally as it does surprised the Hell out of me. The film establishes Andrew at the outset as a sympathetic character whose mother is dying, father abuses him, and classmates bully him. From this (and the trailers, which totally give it away), we assume that Andrew will use his powers to revenge himself on those who’ve wronged him, thus making him the villain of the piece. But how can any filmmaker re-position such a sympathetic character as Andrew to fill the role of the villain against whom the audience must side while not simply privileging popularity over nerdiness?
Much to the credit of screenwriter Max Landis, the film does so inoffensively (from a nerd’s perspective) and without a hitch. Rather than the powers affording him a means by which to revenge himself, Andrew’s sense of right and wrong shifts as the corrupting power of his abilities gives him a megalomaniacal god-complex. Revenge for him, then, functions more as an afterthought than the guiding force behind his transition to villain. In this way, Chronicle functions as a tragedy, one that’s made all the more powerful given our affection for the characters that Landis so carefully cultivates throughout.
Chronicle is now available in a 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. The release includes both the theatrical cut of the film and an unrated, extended Director’s Cut (only offered on the Blu-ray disc) featuring previously “lost footage.” Special features include a deleted scene, Pre-Viz animatics, and a camera test.