Did Chronicle Need to Be a Found-Footage Movie?

Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, and Alex Russell in ‘Chronicle.’ Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Congratulations to Chronicle, the relatively inexpensive found-footage movie that came in No. 1 at the box office this past weekend. Even better: Unlike other found-footage cheapies of recent vintage, Chronicle is actually good! (We’re giving you the side-eye, The Devil Inside.) A smartly directed debut feature by director Josh Trank, it follows three teenage boys — sensitive jock Alex Russell, abused DiCaprio-alike Dane DeHaan, and class president Michael B. Jordan — as they wrestle with newfound superpowers, which they can use to fly, move things with their minds, and smite their enemies. (The last one proves quite the sticking point!) With the movie out in theaters and doing well, Vulture thought it was time to convene another meeting of the Monday Morning Movie Club, so we can discuss some of the talking points generated by Chronicle in a spoiler-y fashion. We mean it! There are spoilers yonder! Turn back if you don’t want to know, and for the rest of you, let’s get to chatting.

Did the movie need to use the found-footage format?
There are a couple times in Chronicle where the found-footage device strains credulity: that DeHaan would videotape the car accident he caused (and that the police wouldn’t demand that he hand over the footage) is one, and the moment in the final battle when DeHaan pulls all the cell phones from the Space Needle crowd and then artfully arranges them around himself, recording his climactic encounter with Russell, is another. And oof, that vlogger girl! She just needed to go away!

Still, despite the persistent nagging feeling of “they wouldn’t have taped this,” the gains from using the found-footage format were immense. Crucially, it put us right inside the head of DeHaan, who goes on to become the most malevolent member of the trio. The movie gives him healthy heapings of a sympathetic backstory, but actually letting us see most scenes through his first-person perspective is a subversive, clever idea: When he goes over to the dark side, the emotional wallop is greater because of how strongly we’ve identified with him. When he was bullied, so were we.

And besides, can you imagine the straight-ahead version of this movie? Divorced of its fidelity to the found-footage format, Chronicle would have been soaked with wall-to-wall emo rock, like the Twilight series or a bad CW show about supernatural hotties. The movie also would have had to portray scenes that, in its current format, it gracefully elides: DeHaan’s disastrous sexual encounter and his mid-air conversations with Russell in the final confrontation are all the more powerful because we only get glimpses of them from third-party observers. We can fill in the gaps with our own imagination, with no clunky dialogue or cliched moments to slow us down.

Of course the black guy dies first.
Chronicle is mostly very savvy about its use of archetypes, but Michael B. Jordan should have entered this movie with the word “EXPENDABLE” stamped on his forehead. Poor guy! Once he’s out of the picture, the movie begins to clearly delineate Russell as the “good guy” of this tale (opposite DeHaan’s nascent villain), yet we would have rather had that role fall to the more charismatic Jordan.

DeHaan didn’t think out his life of crime very well.
DeHaan’s character comes to think of himself as the “alpha predator,” a superman who should be allowed to break the rules in accordance with his overwhelming power, but boy, he wasn’t much for arch-villain planning, was he? DeHaan’s crime spree is mostly motivated by his need to get money to pay for his sick mom’s meds, and he plans to acquire that cash by … walking up to people, demanding their money, and robbing gas stations. Here’s one suggestion: Maybe the guy whose superpower allows him to pull individual teeth out of a classmate’s skull could also, y’know, gingerly lift people’s wallets from their back pockets without them noticing? Hindsight is 20/20!

Was there a weird Jessie J “thing” going on, or was it just us?
For all of the movie’s attempts at realism, we flat-out refused to believe that popular high-school kid Russell would sing along to “Price Tag,” the try-hard attempt at a U.S. hit single from British pop singer Jessie J. And that he would know all the words! Nope, not buying it. (Of course, if he had sang along to “Party in the U.S.A.,” which Jessie J penned for Miley Cyrus, we would have accepted it without question. Everyone secretly knows the words to “Party in the U.S.A.”!) Then, later in the movie, DeHaan attempts to make good on his brief, powers-aided popularity by sleeping with a high school girl who’s randomly sporting Jessie J’s signature Cleopatra cut (and also looks to be a good fifteen years older than a high school student). What was up with that?

Not to get all “IMDb Goofs,” but …
Remember the crucial scene where Russell is at a party for his girlfriend and then his nose starts gushing blood, ruining his cool “USCSS Nostromo” T-shirt? Apparently, the filmmakers didn’t: After Russell runs out of the house, his shirt is spotless in all subsequent scenes. Or maybe telekenesis can be used to do laundry on the run?

Did Chronicle Need to Be a Found-Footage Movie?