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Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

  Tags: Bradley Parker, Chernobyl Diaries, Devin Kelley, Dimitri Diatchenko, FilmNation Entertainment, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, mutants, Nathan Phillips, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Oren Peli, The Genre Co., Warner Bros

Your rating: None Average: 7.3 (8 votes)
Reviewer Rating: 

Rating #: 
Bradley Parker
86 minutes
Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Jesse McCartney, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Dimitri Diatchenko

I didn’t go in expecting much from Chernobyl Diaries. All the advertising beat the audience over the head with the fact that the creator of the Paranormal Activity series produced it. That’s more of a deterrent for me than seal of approval at this point, considering the plummeting decline in the Paranormal sequels. Alas, I was really drawn in by the premise of using the Chernobyl disaster as the backdrop of a horror film, and the promise of some ghostly mischief. Wait a second. This isn’t a ghost movie? The marketing lied to me? Dammit.

A plot doesn’t get much more basic or thin than that of Chernobyl Diaries. A small group of American vacationers head to the Ukraine to visit one of said vacationer’s black sheep, rebel brother. Being the black sheep rebel that he is, he books a tour of the now abandoned town of Pripyat; the site of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. They soon become stranded and realize the town isn’t as abandoned as they thought. Throw in a European couple to raise the body count, and a questionable Ukrainian tour guide, and BOOM. Instant horror movie.

Man, did this movie piss me off. Not because it was insanely bad (because it wasn’t), but because it had so much effing potential and delivered a mediocre movie at best. I really love the idea of spinning a fictional story off from a real life incident, and Chernobyl was a fantastic choice. I’m not sure exactly what location they used to stand in for Pripyat, but the run down buildings and abandoned carnival equipment were perfection. Shooting the movie in Autumn also added to the chilling atmosphere of the unnerving location. Then something happened once the movie’s run time started to creep forward. Or should I say, absolutely nothing happened as the movie’s run time started to creep forward.

If you’re like me and assumed this was a ghost movie, you’re asking yourself right now, “then what is it?” Well, it’s a Hills Have Eyes-ish mutant movie. Which is totally cool with me, I love mutants! Only there’s almost no sight of any mutants because all the action takes place entirely off screen. People go missing, we hear screams, sometimes we see the aftermath, and sometimes we don’t. I get what the filmmakers were trying to do. The good ol’ “less is more” angle by letting the audience imagine the horror in their head. The problem is, something like that only works if everything that we do see is set up properly. Unfortunately for Chernobyl, it’s very hit or miss.

The parts that do work (for example, when the kids initially become trapped in the van and we hear someone being attacked outside) are too few and far between to sustain the film’s tension. A big part of this has to do with the way the film was shot. While not found footage, it was definitely going for that kind of look with extremely shaky and dimly lit shots. Instead of having that edgy, in your face effect, it just came off cheap and unneeded. One scene in particular features the mutants surrounding one of our characters as they all step out of the shadows. Unfortunately, I could barely see them. If it wasn’t for the harsh, musical chord of the score, I wouldn’t have even squinted enough to notice that someone was surrounding her. As far as I knew this chick was freaking out over nothing.

I’m willing to cut the movie a little slack, because it was obviously shot for pennies. And when I say pennies, I mean probably no more than a couple million tops. And if it had gone straight to video then maybe my thoughts would be different, but it didn’t. As horror fans, we pretty much come to expect harsh acting from lower budgeted affairs, but this one threw me for a loop. The cast is compromised of actors who aren’t necessarily household names, but definitely people you’ve seen in a few things, which was why I was shocked to see how generally lacking the acting was. I’ve seen almost all of these actors in films where they were more than capable. They weren’t exactly given the greatest material to work with, but when a cast is all around bad, it might be time to start looking behind the camera at what kind of direction that might have been given.

Chernobyl Diaries isn’t so much a bad movie as it is a disappointing one. With a fantastic location and a really interesting premise, the potential was there. While clearly hindered by some budgetary issues, it still doesn’t make up for all the missed opportunities. In the end, this movie had no business getting a wide, theatrical release, and is best suited for your Watch Instantly queue.

Posted on June 7, 2012 - 11:30am | Johnny D