Chernobyl DiariesDirector: Bradley Parker Producers: Brian Witten, Oren Peli, Bradley Parker Writers: Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke Cast: Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney, Devin Kelley, Olivia Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko, Nathan Phillips, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal Original Music: Diego Stocco Cinematography: Morten Søborg Editing: Stan Stalfas
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for horror fans – the month of October. All the old fear-filled classics are playing at all hours of the day on television, and we are usually treated to a few new films in theaters. And while you don’t have to search very hard to find a horror movie, not many of today’s films can pull off a good scare. The big problem is originality. There are only so many ways to really freak people out, and almost all of them have been done before. There is a reason why movies that make fun of the genre formula (such as Scream or The Cabin in the Woods) have become so popular with fans. But even the films that laugh at all the horror staples are becoming a bit stale. Which is why I now watch every scary screenplay with a little grain of salt – because more likely than not it will turn out to be another bad horror movie.
To be honest, I didn’t really have much hope for Chernobyl Diaries. The trailer looks like the standard haunted house flick, except this is a haunted town. And when Oren Peli is involved, who is famous for the Paranormal Activity movies, you can pretty much count on some kind of documentary style camera work. But even a pretty simple horror movie plot can have some good frightening moments, especially when you have to watch at night all alone because your roommates hate scary movies. I mean, even a crappy horror movie can freak you out a little bit in the middle of the night. I am sometimes scared of random pieces of furniture in my room when all the lights are out. We can only hope Chernobyl Diaries does better than a lumpy sweater on a chair.
A group of friends is on a European vacation, ending up in the Ukraine where Chris’s (Jesse McCartney) brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) lives. While the four friends had planned on visiting Moscow, Paul meets an extreme tour guide who will take them to Pripyat – the city which was a home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactors. The city has been abandoned for the 25 years after the worst nuclear disaster in history, but the buildings are still filled with the artifacts of the hurried evacuation. After a couple hours exploring, while keeping clear of high radiation spots, the group tries to drive back home only to find that the van has been tampered with. In a deserted city who could be trying to prevent their escape? Forced to spend the night there, they may get the answer to that question – and it’s probably not going to be the response they want.
An Interesting Premise
After watching the movie, I found myself researching the Chernobyl disaster. Apparently the site has only been open for tourism since last year, and before that workers could only be near it for a 5 hour day of work with a 15 day rest period to prevent radiation exposure. The cloud of radioactive material caused at least 31 deaths directly, and indirectly caused thousands of cases of cancer and deformity. The fact that there are people who want to visit this abandoned city is a little weird to me (I certainly wouldn’t want to visit something so dangerous and morbid). But it is an intriguing idea that this nuclear disaster site could be haunted/still have people living there. I certainly wanted to know more about the city after watching the film.
The Shaky Cam Style
I went into the movie knowing that Oren Peli was involved, which meant that one of the actors would be handling the camera. The first few minutes are a montage of the friends as they make their way through Europe and they shoot it themselves. But after they get to the brother’s house the documentary should be over because no one is filming. Unfortunately, we’re still treated to the same shaky style that an idiot holding a hand-held camera would give us. The cuts are quick and the angles are strange, which makes it hard to see what’s happening. If you’re going to have a movie without a character documenting the action, why would we be subjected to the same shitty movement of an inexperienced person controlling the action? And boy is it annoying to watch. I can accept that kind of style when it’s an artistic choice (such as in Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project), but when it’s just crappy directing it sucks to watch.
There are some moments where you find yourself asking some questions, and it’s not the good kind. These aren’t the kinds of things you yell at a character who is about to be stabbed or that invoke discussion after the viewing experience. It’s more like, “what the fuck is a bear doing in the building and why didn’t it attack anyone?” (and yes, there is a bear sighting in the film – it’s a very weird scene). The other ridiculous thing is how stupid everyone acts when things start going wrong. When they figure out that they are stuck in Chernobyl for the night, the tour guide tells everyone that they should stay in the van with the doors locked because there are dangerous things outside. Immediately after that statement, he grabs a gun and goes for a walk for no apparent reason. You want to guess what happens when he leaves the van? It’s not pretty, but it is incredibly predictable. I suppose if the characters didn’t do dumb stuff there wouldn’t be a movie, but the tour guide appears to know better and then acts like an idiot. It just takes you out of the film when you keeping shaking your head at the stupidity.
I suppose I’m not the best person to judge this, considering I watch horror movies all the time. It takes a little more than a few jumps to scare the pants off of me, and this just didn’t do it. I think what’s missing is the tension required for moments to truly take someone by surprise. If you can feel the suspense of walking in the darkened hallway, when the flashlight hits the monster you’re going to start screaming. But without it you just have a bunch of scenes that fall flat when they should be filling you with fear.
Overall: .5 Stars Out of 5
Chernobyl Diaries can definitely be classified as another bad horror movie. While it’s cool that it’s set at Chernobyl, the rest of the movie is unoriginal and annoying. The documentary style is just silly and I really don’t care whether anyone lives or dies. And in probably the worst move ever, there is a giant bear running down a hallway that DOESN’T MAUL ANYONE. To Oren Peli and the other writers – when you have a bear it should kill someone. It certainly would have been the most interesting thing that happened in the entire movie.
Buy It, Rent It, Or Skip It?
Skip it entirely. I’m still a little mad that I paid $5 to watch it On Demand. The whole “Redbox doesn’t get new releases for another month” thing is really cutting into my movie budget. But even if you’re a novice to the horror movie, or in the mood to watch this for Halloween, there are so many better choices out there.