February 3, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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CHRONICLE – Worth A Ticket –  “Found Footage” That Deserves to Be Found


Over the past decade, audience hunger for “reality”–the word very much in quotation marks–has engulfed much of popular cultture, from YouTube videos to self-produced songs, from tweets to television series and even cable networks built around people playing manipulated versions of “themselves.”  In movies, the trend has led to an increase in heavily improvised indie comedies and dramas, and also to the genre of “found footage,” films that are basically scripted, but which present themselves as being shot by the amateur participants themselves.  The latter have existed mostly in the field of horror, kicked off by the giant hit The Blair Witch Project, and followed by, among others, Cloverdale, the Paranormal Activity franchise and this year’s The Devil Inside.  (The genre reaches a meta level with the found footage compendium V/H/S, which premiered at Sundance.)

The new CHRONICLE, while playing even more fast and loose with any logical rules of “real” footage, at least provides a new twist on the form, since it inhabits the superpower genre rather than horror.  The brisk 83-minute story (including credits), directed by Josh Trank and written by Max Landis (from a story by him and Trank), is very basic:  3 teens–high-strung loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his nice-guy cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular Steve (Michael B. Jordan)–explore a hole in the ground one night after a party, and after they’ve touched some unexplained glowing thing down there, they find that they’ve acquired the ability to move objects with their minds and, before long, that they can fly.

The center of the tale is Andrew, who has a horrific homelife (dying mother, abusive father)–he’s the one supposedly carrying the camera through almost all of the movie (along the way he upgrades to incongruously high-quality equipment and learns how to make it all levitate, at which point the shots become far smoother and more professional).  At first, their powers are a pure thrill for the guys, who use their telekinesis for pranks and take joy rides in the sky.  But then Andrew starts wielding them to express his anger and frustration, and before long he’s turned into an adolescent super-villain, tearing up the streets of Seattle.

Chronicle‘s story doesn’t offer much, and the found footage genre makes serious characterization all but impossible.  But this is one case where the conceit really works to the movie’s benefit.  Even though we’ve seen all these stunts and CG effects before in massive franchise movies, watching them seemingly tossed off in this casual, supposedly “amateur” way makes them feel new.  (The reported $12M budget, while tiny compared to a comic-book epic, also isn’t the $1M spent on Paranormal Activity and its ilk, and the actual cinematography is by veteran John Bailey.)

Trank and Landis make a lot of smart decisions in Chronicle:  the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, and  aside from a couple of chatty references to Schopenhauer, Plato, and the concept of free will, it doesn’t try to be more than the modest thriller it is.  It delivers a compact, original take on a familiar story, and it holds together just about as long as it needs to.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."