In February 2012, Seattle teenager Andrew Detmer (Dehaan) starts videotaping his life; his mother Karen is dying of cancer and his alcoholic father Richard, who is a former firefighter, is verbally and physically abusive. At school, Andrew is frequently bullied by his classmates.
Andrew's cousin Matt Garetty (Russell) invites him to a party to help him mingle with some people, but his filming causes an altercation with an attendee and he leaves disappointed. He is persuaded by popular student Steve Montgomery (Jordan) to record something strange that he and Matt have found in the woods. The trio enter a hole in the ground, where they hear a loud strange noise and discover a large glowing blue crystalline object which turns red, and gives them painful nosebleeds. As the crystalline object begins to react violently, the camera cuts out. Weeks later, Andrew, Matt, and Steve record themselves as they display telekinetic abilities, but begin bleeding from their noses when they overexert themselves. They develop a close friendship and begin using their abilities to play pranks, but when Andrew telekinetically pushes a rude motorist off the road and into a river, Matt insists that they restrict the use of their powers, particularly against living things.
After discovering themselves being capable of flight, they agree to fly around the world together after graduation. Andrew wants to visit Tibet because of its peaceful nature. Steve encourages him to enter the school talent show to gain popularity. Andrew amazes his fellow students by disguising his powers as an impressive magic act. After the show, Andrew, Matt and Steve celebrate at a house party where Andrew becomes the center of attention. After drinking with his classmate Monica, she and Andrew go upstairs to have sex, but he vomits on her, humiliating both of them.
As time goes on, Andrew becomes increasingly withdrawn and aggressive, culminating when his father, Richard, attacks him and Andrew uses his powers to overwhelm him. His outburst is so extreme that it inflicts psychically connected nosebleeds on Steve and Matt. While Matt ignores the nosebleed, Steve flies up to Andrew in the middle of a storm and tries to console him. However, Andrew grows increasingly frustrated, and Steve is suddenly struck by a lightning bolt and killed. At Steve's funeral, Matt confronts Andrew about the suspicious circumstances of Steve's death. Andrew denies responsibility to Matt, but he privately begs for forgiveness at Steve's grave.
Andrew grows distant from Matt and again finds himself ostracized at school. After being bullied, he uses his powers to rip a few teeth out of a bully's mouth. Andrew begins to identify himself as an apex predator, rationalizing that he should not feel guilt for using his powers to hurt those weaker than him. When his mother's condition deteriorates, Andrew disguises himself using Richard's firefighter gear, where he uses his powers to steal money for her medicine. After mugging a local gang, he robs a gas station where he inadvertently causes an explosion that puts him in the hospital with significant burns, and under police investigation. At his bedside, his father informs the unconscious Andrew that his mother has died, and he angrily blames Andrew for her death. As his father is about to strike him, Andrew awakens and the wall of his hospital room explodes.
At a birthday party, Matt experiences a nosebleed and senses Andrew is in trouble. He and his girlfriend, Casey, go to the hospital, where Andrew is floating outside. After saving Richard when Andrew attempts to kill him, Matt confronts his cousin at the Space Needle and tries to reason with him, but Andrew grows hostile and irrational at any perceived attempt to control him. Andrew attacks Matt and the pair fight across the city, crashing through buildings and hurling vehicles. When police shoot Matt in the arm, Andrew throws dozens of police (and their cars) through the air, and then uses his powers to destroy the buildings around him, threatening hundreds of lives. Unable to get through to his cousin and left with no other choice, Matt then kills Andrew by telekinetically impaling him with a spear from a nearby statue. The police soon surround Matt after which he awakens and flies away.
Later, Matt lands in Tibet with Andrew's camera. Speaking to the camera while addressing Andrew, Matt tearfully vows to use his powers for good and to find out what happened to them in the hole. He positions the camera to view a Tibetan monastery in the distance before flying away, leaving the camera behind.Dane DeHaan as Andrew Detmer
Alex Russell as Matt Garetty
Michael B. Jordan as Steve Montgomery
Michael Kelly as Richard Detmer
Ashley Hinshaw as Casey Letter
Anna Wood as Monica
Bo Petersen as Karen Detmer
DeHaan and Wood, whose characters feature in an embarrassing "almost" sex scene in the film, had already been a couple for five years (since high school) when the film was shot, marrying a few months after its release.
The film was written by Max Landis, from a story by him and Josh Trank, who also directed it. For budgetary reasons, the film was shot primarily in Cape Town, South Africa, with Film Afrika Worldwide, as well in Vancouver, Canada. Trank cited the films Akira, Carrie and The Fury as influences on Chronicle. Filming started in May 2011 and continued for eighteen weeks, ending in August 2011. Cinematographer Matthew Jensen used the Arri Alexa video camera to shoot the film and Angenieux Optimo and Cook s4 lenses. Postproduction techniques were used to give it a "found footage" look. A cable cam rig was used for a shot in which the character Andrew levitated his camera 120 feet into the air. The Arri Alexa camera was mounted on a skateboard to simulate Andrew's camera sliding across a floor. Stuntmen were suspended from crane wire rigs for flying scenes, with green screen special effects used for closeups of the actors. Andrew's video camera in the movie was a Canon XL1 MiniDV and later he switched to a HD camera that resembles a Canon Vixia HF M30. His "Seattle" bedroom was actually a set constructed on a film studio stage in Cape Town. Because in South Africa, vehicles drive on the left side and have steering wheels on the right side, American style vehicles had to be shipped in for the production. DVD dailies were provided to the director and cinematographer by the Cape Town firm HD Hub.
Chronicle opened in 2,907 theaters in the United States and Canada on February 3, 2012. Box office watchers expected the film to gross $15 million for its opening weekend, the Super Bowl weekend, while Fox projected to receive around 8 million. However, by its first day the film had already earned an estimated $8.65 million and finished the weekend as the top film with $22 million, surpassing The Woman in Black ($21 million) and The Grey ($9.5 million) to become the fourth highest Super Bowl debut. Chronicle opened as a number one hit internationally, opening in 33 foreign markets such as Australia, China, and the United Kingdom, where it earned the most with $3.5 million. Overall, the film grossed $64.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $62 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $126.6 million. Chronicle was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on May 15, 2012. The film was released on DVD and a special "Lost Footage" edition for Blu-ray, which contains additional footage that was not shown in theaters.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 85% based on 168 reviews and an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Chronicle transcends its found-footage gimmick with a smart script, fast-paced direction, and engaging performances from the young cast." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 69 out of 100 based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, saying, "From [the] deceptively ordinary beginning, Josh Trank's Chronicle grows into an uncommonly entertaining movie that involves elements of a superhero origin story, a science-fiction fantasy and a drama about a disturbed teenager. Empire critic Mark Dinning gave the film 4 stars out of 5, saying that it is "a stunning superhero/sci-fi that has appeared out of nowhere to demand your immediate attention." Total Film gave the film a five-star review (denoting 'outstanding'): "Believable then bad-ass, it isn't wholly original but it does brim with emotion, imagination and modern implication." On the negative side, Andrew Schenker of Slant Magazine gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, saying the film, "offers up little more than a tired morality play about the dangers of power, rehashing stale insights about the narcissism of the documentary impulse."
The film was nominated for Best Science Fiction Film at 39th Saturn Awards, but lost to The Avengers.
Fox hired Max Landis to write a sequel. Whether director Josh Trank would return was unclear. The Hollywood Reporter gave a brief one-line mention in its March 23, 2012 issue that a sequel was in development. However, it was later reported that Fox was not happy with the script. On April 10, 2013, Landis told IGN that Fox did like the script and they're moving along with it; Landis also said that the sequel would be darker in tone. On July 17, 2013, Landis revealed on his Twitter account that he and Trank are no longer working on the sequel and new writers have taken over to write the film. In March 2014, Fox hired Jack Stanley to write the script.