As film-goers, we all have our own preferences. Personally, I am not keen on superhero or found footage films. These are two genres that have never resonated with me. And yet for some unaccountable reason, I recently decided to watch Chronicle, a movie that draws on both (a) superhero and (b) found footage tropes.

I’m glad I made this exception.

Chronicle is about three high school kids who develop telekinesis after being exposed to some kind of unexplained radioactive presence. This incident bonds the three kids together, utilizing their newly acquired abilities to do stupid kid stuff, the kind of antics you would imagine kids doing in the era of YouTube: moving a woman’s car into a different parking space and reveling in her confused reaction, attempting to remove chewing gum from a man’s mouth, altering the trajectory of a tennis ball so that it strikes each other in the cranium, etc.

First and foremost, the movie excels because they made these characters so likable. Andrew, the protagonist, is a timid kid who is somewhat of a pariah. At home, his mother is terminally ill, and his father is abusive. We first meet Matt, Andrew’s cousin, when he drives Andrew to school. He is the kind of guy who uses an impromptu vocal rendition of “Price Tag” to segue into the philosophical teachings of Arthur Schophauer. And then there is of course Steve Montgomery, the dreamy popular guy who isn’t above hanging out with some of the misfits.

Why does Andrew have a camera? Why is he recording all of this? “I don’t know,” he simply tells his cousin. “I’m filming things now. I’m filming everything.” When his cousin drags him along to a rave, he runs into a girl who is also wielding a camera. “Hey, what are you filming for?” she asks him. “I’m just filming,” he replies. Her own reason for filming: She has a vlog. Why does she have a vlog? I don’t know. She just does.

That detail is massively important. Everyone is filming everything for reasons that are unexplained. And by refusing to offer any kind of explanation for this, it downplays the hokiness of found footage flicks.[1] It makes the found footage shtick seem less like a cinematic construct and more like a statement on modernity, and it accomplishes this in a manner that isn’t remotely pretentious or didactic.  

People like documenting their lives, everything from the mundane to the fantastical. I mean, have you been to a concert recently? If so, you have undoubtedly witnessed throngs of people hoisting their cell phones into the air to capture that illustrious rock star moment. And sure, I’ll admit that it’s fairly dope to see footage of a concert you went to. But still, nothing ruins a moment of great spontaneity like the hoisting of the cell phones; it immediately takes you out of the moment and makes everything seem like some contrived photo-op.

This is perfectly illustrated by this photo taken at a Weezer concert that I attended. They performed at a shopping mall, marking the opening of a Microsoft store. During a song when Rivers Cuomo was relieved of vocal duties, he impetuously left stage and wondered up this hill, playing his axe up near a highway. This was a sublime moment marred only by the absurd presence of cellular phones.

But this certainly isn’t a new phenomenon; it is merely a new spin on a phenomenon that has existed for eons. I, for example, kept a diary throughout a certain period of my life. It was very cathartic and edifying outlet for me. 

However, over time, I found myself pouring over past diary entries. Much like those insipid “remember that time when…” conversations, my present was being supplanted by my past. I found myself becoming increasingly more engrossed into the world of my diary. The more time I spent obsessing over my diary, the less time I spent in the outside world experiencing life. And somehow the less time I spent experiencing life, the longer my diary entries became. Like Andrew, I had a little barrier of my own. 

There are obviously some differences between keeping a diary and recording on a camera. But once taken to the extreme, is either obsession better than the other? Are these barriers salutary? I don’t know. Again, what’s refreshing about this film is that it isn’t instructive: They don’t know either. There are no answers, only unassuming observations.

(Spoiler in the next paragraph! If you don’t want to know how Chronicle ends, stop reading now.)

At the end of this movie, Andrew dies. And yet, Matt is still addressing him as he peers into Andrew’s camera. That’s because not only does the camera represent Andrew to all of us in the audience on a superficial level (it frequently gives his POV,) the camera represents Andrew within the reality of Chronicle. He and his camera are inseparable. One cannot delineate between Andrew’s life as experienced by Andrew and Andrew’s life as experienced by Andrew’s camera.

[1] Similarly, it establishes another POV character, which—along with the way that Chronicle ingeniously uses the kids’ telekinesis to manipulate the camera for interesting shots—breaks up the monotony of these types of movies.