Usually reserved for ghosts, zombies, and monsters, the budding "found footage" sub-genre is given a twist with Chronicle, which merges the low-budget aesthetic (some might say "gimmick") with another super-popular genre: the superhero movie. Chronicle ostensibly records what happens to three teenagers after they stumble across a mysterious object in the woods, leading them to develop telekinetic abilities. But as their powers grow stronger, things start to spiral out of control when one of the teens begins to give in to his darker side.
Given the earning power of movies like Paranormal Activity and audiences' never-ending appetite for more superheroes, it's a little surprising it's taken this long for some forward-thinking screenwriter to merge the two genres. But the bigger question is, how does the inventive mash-up compare to its forefathers? Billed as "Cloverfield meets X-Men," does Chronicle deliver the best of both worlds (a la Hannah Montana) or end up as less than the sum of its parts (like Cowboys & Aliens)? We do the math.
Chronicle vs. Cloverfield:
Itself billed as "The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla," the J.J. Abrams-produced monster movie officially reignited the found footage craze in 2008, as it followed a group of camera-wielding 20-somethings dodging a giant sea creature taking out its frustrations on Manhattan. Cloverfield's reason to press 'record'? Documenting a going-away party for their best bud Rob. Chronicle's? To protect the movie's timid young protagonist (Dane DeHaan) from his abusive, alcoholic dad. (Advantage, Chronicle.)
Cloverfield's Godzilla-lite monster regains the lead, though, compared to Chronicle, where the monster is essentially an emo teen gone bad (or man's eternal nature, depending on how much credit you want to give Max Landis' pseudo-philosophizing script). But while destroying Seattle instead of New York City may give Chronicle less easily-identifiable landmarks to tear through, it does get bonus points for originality.
Winner: Too close to call
Chronicle vs. Spider-Man:
Both Chronicle and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man function as superhero origin stories, and both see former geeks transform into demi-gods. In Spider-Man, "with great power comes great responsibility" is the central theme; in Chronicle, it's "with great power comes great opportunity to pull pranks" -- at least until that ultimate power begins to corrupt Andrew, as it has for so many would-be superheroes before him.
But it's the source of that great power that gives Chronicle the edge. A radioactive spider versus a glowing subterranean (and presumably alien) crystal? It's no contest. And when Andrew uses his burgeoning telekinesis to de-limb a helpless spider, Chronicle sends a clear message: Peter Parker, watch out.
Chronicle vs. Paranormal Activity 2:
Any found footage movie has one central problem it has to deal with: how do you keep up the pretense of POV filming without giving the audience motion sickness? Paranormal Activity 2 upped the ante and the camera angles from Oren Peli's original microbudget hit by using a home security system. Chronicle's solution is a little less elegant. Over the course of its 84 minutes, it cuts between multiple cameras: at first, it tries to justify this by introducing a romantic interest who's constantly filming "for her blog." Eventually, it gives up entirely for a finale that switches between bystander camera phones, news cameras, and closed-circuit security footage. Which is kind of a cop-out, considering all that earlier time spent constantly explaining away the camera. Besides, isn't the whole point of the found footage genre playing with the limitations imposed by acknowledging the camera?
Winner: Paranormal Activity 2
Chronicle vs. X-Men: First Class:
How do Chronicle's cousins-turned-foes Andrew and Matt stack up against the superhero genre's most famous frenemies? Well, for one, both pairs differ on how to use their powers. Matt is perfectly happy playing football at 25,000 feet. Andrew, on the other hand, prefers crushing cars. And both set important ground rules that they argue over before the disagreement eventually causes the former friends to splinter. But it's their respective breaking points that make this one a no-brainer. Magneto switches to the dark side after being double-crossed by the people he swore to protect. Andrew? He throws up on a girl he likes at a party. Embarrassing? Sure. Worthy of a psychotic break? Maybe not.
Winner: X-Men: First Class
Chronicle vs. The Blair Witch Project:
The movie that started it all, The Blair Witch Project played up its scares by going to great lengths to assert its supposed "found" nature: foregoing credits, scheduling a phony tie-in documentary, releasing falsified police reports. Chronicle doesn't really bother going to all that trouble, though it did create a viral stir recently, making a few New Yorkers do double-takes -- no easy feat -- by flying remote-controlled people-shaped airplanes over the city, a nod to the movie's airborne teenagers.
And while both sets of kids can be equally annoying behind the camera (and both repeatedly cry into it), we've got to give the slight advantage to Chronicle here. Both Blair Witch and Chronicle center around something mysterious happening to three kids out in the woods, but at least Chronicle gives us an actual payoff. Yes, even if that payoff comes in the form of kinda-cheesy CGI.
Final Tally: Chronicle's an interesting, if flawed, entry into the found footage genre, providing some clever twists on the tried-and-true superhero formula -- along with further proof that teenagers shouldn't be given superpowers. Or video cameras, for that matter.