Chernobyl Diaries Review
Max's Rating: 3/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 3.3/10
(2 reviews total)
Oren Peli has done well for himself in recent years, mostly due to creating and guiding the "Paranormal Activity" series into financial success and reinvigorating (for better or worse) the low-budget horror genre. Now, Peli has come at us from a writer/producer angle with Chernobyl Diaries
, and it's safe to say his touch is showing serious fatigue.
"Diaries" starts up with Chris (Jesse McCartney), Amanda (Devin Kelley) and Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) traveling across Europe and stopping in Kiev, Ukraine to visit Chris's brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski). While the group plans to move on to Moscow, Paul learns of an "extreme tour" in the town of Prypiat—a ghost town that sits mere miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, long abandoned since the infamous meltdown.
One by one, Paul gathers group consensus to tour the town and shortly after the group meets up with a backpacking couple, Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) and Michael (Nathan Phillips), who have also agreed to go on the tour under the guide of Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko). Initially, the group is denied entry into the town, citing maintenance issues, but Uri finds a back way in. After spending the day touring the town, the group attempts to leave, only to learn the van has been sabotaged. As night falls, radiation sickness, paranoia and something in the town begins to systematically attack the group as they attempt to find a way out.
If it feels like the last paragraph gave you most of the story, that's because it does. The build up to the actual entrance into the town is longer than it should be, with little character development (or any character at all). Once the cast makes it to Prypiat, the film employs every horror cliché under the sky in an attempt to scare the audience, only to come up empty on actual thrills or suspense.
At a relatively short run time (90 minutes), "Diaries" spends too much time on unnecessary attempts to flesh out the relationship of Chris and Paul, who apparently have a troubled history, as we're led to understand Paul has gotten Chris into some serious jams before. Paul spends a lot of his screen time blaming himself for bringing the group to the town. It is natural he would blame himself, but less natural that he would be dwelling on it every ... damn ... second. And if Paul had uttered "dude" one more time, I would've set the screen on fire. Seriously. He should not be allowed to say "dude" every again. For a lead character, I couldn't wait for the creatures to get him.
The creatures themselves are how "Diaries" hugely misfires. In reality, you never see them. You don't know if they're mutants, zombies, grasshoppers. Nothing. We're given nothing, other than a tacked-on ending you see coming from miles away and doesn't even give you a good money shot at the end. As the creatures are kept mostly from view, this prevents us from seeing what could have been (awesomely) violent deaths. This absence feels like it is intended to heighten the effect of the deaths of certain characters and put you in the moment, but really it feels loose and cheap.
The one thing the film has going for it is atmosphere. The fact that a lot of shooting was done in the actual town of Prypiat helps. Several extended sequences during the day are effective, showing the group going through the schools, courtyards and apartments of the town. It's a different kind of horror in these scenes, looking at the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster 25 years later. Regrettably, these set pieces take up little time in the film as most of the "horror" happens at night—mostly.
And when the night falls, you don't get much. Again, it's cliche after cliche in "Diaries," but what's worse is that they won't even show you the action, let alone make up their mind on what format of storytelling they're going for. Is it a standard experience? Is it a point of view? Found footage? The lens through which director Bradley Parker attempts to convey the events keeps changing and instead of jarring or scary, the only effect we feel is annoyed. By the end of the film, you're thankful it's over.
This isn't to say that "Diaries" is a (complete) piece of trash. It has a concept that could have gone well and a great setting to play it out in. What it doesn't have is suspense or even a shred of originality and after this year's Cabin in the Woods
, it is not too much to ask for a horror film to do better for its viewers and the genre.
And if you haven't seen Cabin in the Woods
... next opportunity you can, see it. Rating: 3/10
"It seems like again and again when reviewing horror movies, in some capacity I have to rant how the film has thrown it all away in the final act. It’s very saddening to me, but entirely the way of today’s scary movie landscape. The Chernobyl Diaries
is one of the absolute worst perpetrators of that crime and descends so suddenly into laughable tripe, I wondered if someone had accidently edited in the ending of another movie. The opening half with our doomed teens wandering around abandoned Prypiat, Ukraine is stunning in its ominousness and is effective in and of itself as horror. Then our characters get dumber and dumber and when the mutants (or whatever they are) show up all subtlety has disintegrated and we’re left with a figurative slap in the face and a shot to the nards." Rating: 3.5/10