Found footage films and the supernatural are no strangers. It's that odd juxtaposition of out-there weirdism and rough, raw as-it's-happening realism that has made such films so successful going back all the way to the Blair Witch Project in 1999. More than once over the past 13 years, the "found footage" genre has been pronounced dead on arrival or, at the very least, tired and done. Then something like Chronicle comes along. There's no haunted houses or city destroying monsters in this one. It's simply about three friends who acquire supernatural telekinetic powers right around the time the main character (Andrew) decides to start chronicling his miserable life via video camera. What begins as an attempt to capture the final moments of his mother's life as she suffers from a terminal illness turns into something more fantastic and fatal than he could have ever imagined. Unlike other films, there is no conceit that the video we're seeing is "found footage" (for example discovered in the aftermath of whatever it is that unspools in front of us on video). The reason that the camera(s) used in the filming of these fantastic events are even capturing what we're seeing is non-verbally explained away as "why wouldn't you be filming it if these things happened to you?" Of course, the addition of another character who carries around a camera at student functions seems a little forced at first, but it never got in the way of my enjoying the story. It was simply there... a necessary means to create more complete coverage of what was going on. How they used the cameras was smart, not just with a clever directorial eye, but from a character standpoint as well. As for the special effects, there are a few parts that seem a bit weak, but overall, with the tiny budget I imagine this film had, they did a lot with it. The flying moments and especially the final conflict at the end were breathtaking to watch. But the less bombastic scenes were also a revelation. Watching the boys as they exercise their new abilities on the unsuspecting was both funny and unnerving. The handheld camera work made me feel like I was right with these guys, sharing a deep, dark secret, and all the danger that came along with it. I remember coming out of the theater when I had seen it originally and thinking that THAT is the way found footage films should be done. The special effects have to always fall second to the characters. And the opening moments of the film give us characters that you connect with right away. You sympathize with Andrew and his desire to fit in, while at the same time using his camera as a wall to separate himself from everyone around him.
I kind of wanted to delve further into the world of Chronicle, but unfortunately the DVD isn’t exactly chock-full of extras. Beyond the film, it just provides some animatics from a few of the more sfx heavy scenes of the film and some early test footage (with different actors) of how the telekinetic powers would potentially appear in the final film. Other than that, we get a trailer and not much else. The Blu-Ray apparently has a Director’s Cut of the film (the screener Fox sent me just had the film and the extras listed here), so I’m thinking that and/or the Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack might be the better option if you want more goodies when Chronicle hits stores on May 15th.