|Movie: Chernobyl Diaries
Studio: Alcon Entertainment
Director: Bradley Parker
Length: 90 Minutes
Plot: Six vacationers embark on an “extreme tourism” adventure to the Ukrainian city of Prypiat, the 25-year ghost town that resulted from the aftermath of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in April 1986. Though the tourists assume the city is devoid of all forms of life, they find out how dead wrong they are after they become stranded amid the radioactive wilderness and its predators.
Review: “Chernobyl Diaries” broke my heart from sheer disappointment. The trailer looks promising, and its premise appears to be perfect. From watching the previews for this movie, we assume that these attractive 20-somethings visit the Chernobyl disaster site and get attacked by some kind of radioactive, mutated humanoid freaks, right? At least, that’s why I paid theater prices to see the first screening of the film on its opening day.
Wrong. Well, maybe. I’m not sure.
Having seen the film today, I can honestly tell you that I’m not certain if the kids in this movie are attacked by radioactive, mutated humanoid freaks. I’m pretty sure that’s what happens, but not certain. Why? Because the filmmakers opt to never give us a good look at the humanoids or any of their attacks, for that matter. “Chernobyl Diaries” doesn’t show us any kill scenes or gore. The only gore we get is from the aftermath of a kill or a mere injury. Let’s put it this way, if this movie had a little less profanity, it could have been rated PG-13 (possibly even PG), instead of R.
“Chernobyl Diaries” does a few things exactly right, but it does them for way too long. Watching this movie is like getting a good back-scratch and then your back-scratcher never stops scratching until your flesh is ripping off, bloody and clumpy and gathering under her fingernails. I remember reaching a point while watching “Chernobyl Diaries” when I realized that the movie was never going to cash in on anything it had been building up and promising. The phrase “high and dry” comes to mind…
Initially, I thought director Bradley Parker and screenwriter Oren Peli (“Paranormal Activity”) were taking Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975) approach, where they slowly build tension and anticipation by scaring us with the threat of an imminent monster. But to be clear, watching “Chernobyl Diaries” is like watching “Jaws” if Spielberg had decided never to show us the shark.
The “Master of Suspense” himself, Alfred Hitchcock, once taught that telling the audience that there is a bomb under a table is far more effective than merely having a bomb explode immediately. The anticipation of death builds suspense and excitement. “Chernobyl Diaries” gets this part right, but we want to actually see the explosion eventually, not just its aftermath. At one point during his instruction, Hitchcock jokes by saying, “The bomb must never go off.” But the makers of “Chernobyl Diaries” didn’t realize Al was only kidding.
I have to note that the casting was nearly perfect for this film. Dimitri Diatchenko steals the show as Uri, the extreme tourism travel guide. And I also have to commend Jonathan Sadowski (“Friday the 13th,” 2009) for his performance as Paul, the instigator of this extreme tourism trip. My only casting complaint lies with Jesse McCartney as Chris, who plays Paul’s uptight younger brother. This character is supposed to be a square, but his youthful, Disney Channel face is all wrong for this movie.
“Chernobyl Diaries” was filmed in Serbia and Hungary, and its sets and locations are tremendous. The setting is atmospheric, convincing and truly creepy. I will give credit to Peli for attempting to write his characters in such a way that the deaths of their companions are affecting to them. And I also have to compliment a brief glimpse of a huge, CGI bear that looks passable and some genuine suspense generated by some dogs; otherwise, there’s not much more to praise here.
In summary, horror fans need not bother seeing “Chernobyl Diaries” because it doesn’t have much to see. I am rating it a 4.5 out of 10, which is an “Avoid” altogether. It’s a somewhat suspenseful thriller but not much of a horror film. Instead, we get a lot of shaky-cam to obscure the non-existent action, and when the camera is still enough for us to see what’s happening, the shots are cloaked in darkness, lit only with one or two swirling flashlights. Bottom line: Great premise. Decent set-up. Poor execution. Zero pay-off. Avoid.
To hear horror movie reviews from Jay of the Dead and his cohorts, listen to Horror Metropolis. Contact Jay of the Dead: HorrorMetropolis@gmail.com
[Note: "Chernobyl Diaries" is a new release written review and not one of the eight films included in the two DVD give-away contest sponsored by Horror Metropolis.]
| Reviewer: Jay of the Dead
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