(Josh Trank, 2012)
It's one of those ideas so simple and obvious it seems impossible it hasn't been done before: a found footage super-hero movie.
Well, Chronicle takes that concept, mixes in a little high school drama and a touch of horror, and turns in a gripping little genre film made on a relatively low budget without any stars which has far more impact than most big budget superstar-fronted blockbusters.
It follows three Seattle teens who gain telekinetic powers after an encounter with something of alien origin in the woods. They have quite archetypal personalities, nicely revealed through narrative as we see them gain strength and confidence with their new abilities; Steve is cocky, likeable and popular, Matt is sensitive and nice, and Andrew - whose mother is dying and whose embittered alcoholic father lives off benefits after an accident at work - is damaged, lonely and emotionally volatile. Andrew is also recording everything on his new video camera, allowing Trank to put it in unlikely scenes and places as one of the boys is gradually corrupted by his new power.
That found footage aspect is inventive throughout and just about pushed to its limit; but it is also, unpredictably, a great vehicle for this story. The super-hero action fetishised by the studio genre films which are largely responsible for much of it has little margin for error in terms of effects and visuals. If it isn't great, it's generally awful, with no middle ground. But the found footage approach, in contrast, is extremely forgiving: the scenes of superpowers here are lo-fi, snatched, caught from a distance or in a blur on video or security camera. That provides instant verisimilitude and immediacy to the action climax, which has a sense of genuine awe and scale absent from bigger films.
It also has a hefty emotional kick; these characters are developed enough, their world recognisable enough that we care about and empathise with them. The likeable work of the three leads is a big part of that, as is the snappy pacing and smart tonal changes which characterise the narrative.