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Chernobyl Diaries – Review

Chernobyl Diaries – Review

Jun 3, 2012

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Bradley Parker, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries is a 2012 horror film written and produced by Oren Peli, the mastermind behind the Paranormal Activity franchise. The movie follows a group of young people, two of which are brothers, in a vacation across Europe. The older and less stable brother, Paul, decides to make a slight detour from their Moscow itinerary and instead embarks on an “Extreme Tour” of Pripyat, an abandoned town that was immediately evacuated after the famous Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Although Paul’s younger brother Chris is against the idea, the rest of the group agrees to the tour and convinces Chris to come along.

The single owner and operator of the extreme tour is a big Ukrainian named Uri who makes clear that he “works alone.” He takes them in a shoddy van through a “secret” entrance into Pripyat since the main entrance has been blocked by a military squadron. They make their way into the heart of the city and begin the tour process, occasionally receiving short but helpful tips from Uri. After being attacked by a bear, they decide it is time to hit the road – Uri assures them that there will be “no extra charge for bear attack.” Strangely, the leads to the van battery have been shredded, leaving the group stranded in the heart of the city. Since the nearest checkpoint is 13 miles away and hiking at night is too dangerous, everyone agrees to stay in the van until morning.

This is when the chaos begins. For various reasons the group is led out of the van to investigate disturbances and then back into the van to tell everyone to stay put. When Chris becomes seriously injured, three of the friends decide they must find a way out of the city at any cost. Along the way, they discover horrific truths about the abandoned city – it isn’t really abandoned. Mutated creatures, presumably altered by radiation, now survive as zombies apparently under the careful watch of the Ukrainian military. By the end of the film, two of the friends have survived the attacks from the creatures, but unfortunately have to contend with being discovered by the military.

A glimpse on RottenTomatoes.com quickly reveals how unimpressed critics have been with Chernobyl Diaries – it currently holds a 22% rotten rating. The scathing reviews from the critics once again demonstrate a lack of appreciation for horror conventions. Let’s state the obvious right from the start – yes, this film incorporates a lot of tried and true horror cliches; the tour guide is the first to die, the setting is an isolated location, the vehicle won’t start, most of the lighting from the film comes from flashlights, and so on. Herein lies the basic distinction between most movie critics and most horror fans – the inclusion of these elements does not preclude a positive viewing experience for horror fans. In fact, they quite possibly could set the stage for everything we love, just so long as it is done well. That is what makes a horror fan a horror fan. We aren’t just looking for the next unique, never explored concept in film making (although it is great when that comes along!), but we instead are looking for horror films that do things well, even if it is a concept we have seen 1,000 times before.

With that in mind, Chernobyl Diaries is worth a look. The blending of a historical, disastrous event with a fictional horror story creates a terrific atmospheric setting. The creation of Pripyat is incredibly well done with the center piece being the famous Pripyat Ferris Wheel (as seen in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare). I found myself wishing the “tour” would continue a little longer just so I could learn a little more about the ghost town and nature of the evacuation. This is one of the those movies where you come home and immediately Google the real Pripyat to see how much of the film was historically accurate.

The creatures themselves were fairly bland – we never get a good view of them and they remain blurred most of the movie. As a matter of fact, most of the kills and gruesome elements of the movie take place off screen. Nevertheless, there are some effective scare moments and plenty of suspense building silence combined with a few frantic chase scenes.

By far the weakest aspect of the film was the direction of the camera – I just couldn’t help feeling like a high school student somewhat familiar with horror was manning the camera for this film. At times it was very noticeable and distracting. This, of course, is ultimately the job of directory Bradley Parker to make sure he has set up the shot in an effective manner for the camera to work its magic. Although Parker, I think, has some good ideas scattered throughout the film for the camera, I wouldn’t expect him to be directing again anytime soon.

Chernobyl Diaries is a decent, fun, entertaining summer horror movie. Certainly not one for the ages, but also not deserving of the beating it is receiving from the “critics.”

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