Chronicle, an audacious “found footage” thriller about three teenage boys who obtain super powers, hits theaters on Friday, and the high-flying film is already generating a whole lot of buzz. The cinematic adventure is supposedly shot by the main characters, primarily the dejected outcast Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan. Because the three guys are all proficient in telekinesis (the ability to move objects with your mind), though, they can simply make the camera “float” alongside them. Thus, Chronicle isn’t filled with shaky handheld camera work, but sweeping, steady overhead shots that capture all the action. It’s all very fascinating at first — whoa, a hovering camera is just following them around! — and then you sort of just forget you’re even watching a “found footage” movie at all.
Actually, the experience of watching Chronicle was somewhat similar to the experience of watching ABC’s Modern Family — although, obviously, not in tone. But the question remains: If the footage was supposedly “found,” then why was it being filmed in the first place? Post-YouTube, have audiences grown accustomed enough with the idea of handheld camera-work that we don’t require the same level of plausibility to explain its use, and accept it instead as a storytelling convention?
Chronicle‘s director Josh Trank tells EW that he sought to create “a movie that would fall into the found footage category, but would not be like a found footage movie because [it] would have a very classical, three-act story.” The 26-year-old rose in notoriety after a found footage-style YouTube video he created went viral in 2007. Despite his emphasis on the time-tested structure, Trank was very aware that the found footage genre has its detractors. “Part of the stigma is that [they are] kind of fakey and amateurish and hard to watch,” he says. In Chronicle, though, “the audience can watch the movie and then forget about the fact that it’s P.O.V. It just feels like storytelling.”
If that’s the case, many traditionalists will be wondering why the filmmakers, who shot the film for under $15 million, didn’t just use typical shooting techniques. “I guess if it annoys you,” Trank responds, “you’re just thinking about it too much. Or you think that the filmmakers care about it too much, which we really don’t. We’re just kind of having fun with the convention.” He adds, “It’s not like it’s Dogme 95 or something or like that, where we’re saying ‘We have to remain as pure as humanly possible to every aspect of it.’ We’re remaining as pure as humanly possible to about 60 percent of it, and then the 40 percent, we don’t really try too hard to justify in times where we don’t need the audience to think too hard about it… I personally think it’s kind of funny how ridiculous we go.”
Still, to classify Chronicle as an interesting film only because of its shooting style would be remiss. Says Trank, “It’s a serious film, and we don’t want the style to make the audience too self-conscious about what they’re watching.” The only question now is: Will you be watching?