Frankly, it’s shocking that nobody has made a found-footage superhero film before now. Both genres have experienced an explosion in recent years, and the low-budget aesthetic of found-footage narratives (the classic example is The Blair Witch Project, the most recent is the Paranormal Activity series) makes the requisite special effects of a superhero movie much more affordable. Someone finally did the math, and about, say, two years later than expected, we have Chronicle, a found-footage movie about three teenage Seattle boys who gain superpowers after discovering a mysterious glowing subterranean artifact.
The bad news is that Chronicle drops the ball on the found-footage front. The trick of these sorts of movies is that the narrative has to explain why all the relevant events ended up on camera; the second half of Chronicle violates that rule in a major way. The good news, which is far more important than the bad news, is that Chronicle is a fun, riveting superhero flick.
The movie embraces the superhero formula as it begins: We meet a shy young man named Andrew (Dane DeHaan), who arms himself with a video camera to document the abuse he suffers every day, from both his alcoholic father and the popular kids at his high school. Soon enough, thanks to the urging of his bolder, more popular cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and the most popular guy in school (played by Michael B. Jordan), the three are spelunking around a cavern and accidentally gaining telekinetic powers.
Thankfully, not much attention is paid to the whys and hows of the superpowers. We’re instead dropped into a series of scenes in which the boys mess around with their new abilities, exulting in the sheer joy of discovery. The special effects are seamless; complaints about the emptiness of CGI imagery seem silly after watching these judiciously applied effects. (The worst ones are devoted to the simple task of faking the film’s Seattle setting—don’t go expecting to see our city immortalized onscreen; the only things they get halfway right are the Space Needle, a reference to Madison Street, and a single you-are-now-entering-King-County sign.)
Things start to fall apart, and superhero personality clichés are tested to—and past—the breaking point. The final battle feels a bit hoary, if you’ve spent any amount of time reading comics. But Chronicle concludes with an appropriate amount of bombast, given that there are some expectations every superhero movie has to meet. There’s enough inventiveness and energy packed into the 83-minute run time that by the time the credits roll, you’re grateful for the refreshing ground-level view of such familiar sights.