Chronicle is a scifi drama about three Seattle high school students - Andrew, Matt and Steve – who develop extraordinary ‘super’ powers after climbing into a deep crater. They initially delight in their new powers of strength, telekinesis and flight, and bond over their secret. However, Andrew's family problems cause him deep-seated psychological issues, and he begins misusing his powers. Soon the group are divided and matters spin out of their control.

The film was first sent to the BBFC for an advice viewing in January 2012 in an unfinished form, with the end credits and some special effects finalised. The distributors made a 12A category request: a specific request can often be helpful in giving Examiners an idea of the target market that the film makers see for the film.

This version of Chronicle sat on the borderline between a 12A and a 15 age rating. It had obvious appeal to younger teenagers but the category-defining issues of violence with some bloody moments, were unprecedented at 12A. The themes of bullying, domestic violence, teenage alienation and the terminal illness of a parent, which created an adult and dramatic tone, were also discussed.

Category defining issues are those which secure the age rating, though many films feature other content which is discussed by Examiners, and might be of interest to parents or viewers. That information is always recorded in BBFCinsight. Examiners use the BBFC Guidelines, current research and the law as the basis for all decision making, also bearing in mind recent decisions with similar works.

When Chronicle was submitted the BBFC Guidelines stated that in a work rated 12A/12 'Moderate violence is allowed but should not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood, but occasional gory moments may be permitted if justified by the context'.

Most of the action is seen from the point of view of the lead characters, mainly Andrew, who uses a video camera to record the daily events of his life. All the friends take turns with the camera as the story unfolds, and CCTV footage is also incorporated into the narrative. The immediacy of this point-of-view stylistic device amplifies the impression of violence and threat in some scenes.

Whilst the film contains a significant element of fantasy, and much of the violence is delivered in a fairly impressionistic style, the climactic battle is crunchy, sustained and dark in tone, and the ending fairly bleak. Also the narrative sees Andrew's personality darkening and his behaviour becoming more erratic and malign, projecting a very realistic sense of teenage irresponsibility and dangerous activity.

Examiners recommended a 15 at the advice stage for the cumulative effect of the moderate violence, the theme and the downbeat tone of the film, plus some strong moments of violence and gory injury detail.

The film’s distributors asked for advice from the BBFC on what changes they would need to make to secure the requested 12A category. They were told that some changes were required to:

  • Address the sadistic relish that a –key, and arguably sympathetic  character, demonstrates as he inflicts personalised violence with his special powers, taking revenge on a bully and afterwards callously discussing the damage he has caused
  • Minimise the focus on a character’s burnt and bloody arm, where detail of damaged flesh is clearly shown
  • Reduce focus on a character being impaled, where repeated shots overly emphasised his violent death

All works submitted for advice require a formal examination. A re-edited version, in which the company had cut some scenes and made visual reductions to others, was submitted soon after the initial advice viewing. Cuts had been made to two scenes, with some darkening of shots in others to reduce focus on gory injuries. This version of Chronicle was rated 12A at the end of January 2012, with the accompanying BBFCinsight: ‘Contains moderate violence, threat, bloody moments and language’ (at 12A, uses of moderate language such as 'bitch' and 'prick' are category defining). The long BBFCinsight for the theatrical release, available on the BBFC website, explains this further, and includes spoiler-free information on changes that the distributor choose to make after the advice stage. A letter was also sent to the distributors advising that a warning notice be placed at cinema box offices about sequences containing flashing or flickering lights in the film (some viewers are sensitive to these effects and occasionally may suffer seizures).

The DVD version of Chronicle was submitted in March 2012, and included content previously removed for the 12A rated cinema release. It was therefore classified 15 and required different BBFCinsight to reflect the stronger material; the BBFCinsight for the 15 rated DVD reads: ‘Contains bloody injury detail, moderate violence and threat’. The long BBFCinsight for the 15 rated DVD version expands on the reasons for the higher category. Shortly afterwards, a third version of the film – a Director’s cut for Blu-ray release – was submitted. This included previously unseen footage, and further increased the impression of violence and threat in the film, although not sufficiently to change the 15 category. However, due to the strengthening and more sustained nature of the category-defining issues, the BBFCinsight was changed again for this version to advise ‘Contains bloody injury detail, strong violence and sustained threat’, and the Director’s cut long BBFCinsight was again adapted.

Following the film’s release there were thirteen written complaints from the public, some of whom expected a comic superhero film on the basis of the film’s marketing, and were surprised to find a film that is a more serious drama, with a downbeat and sombre tone.

Chronicle was selected for the Into Film Festival 2014.