Eerie setting, shame about everything else
, 25 Jun 2012
Chernobyl Diaries is about a group of young, attractive and mostly American tourists who travel through an Eastern European country with predictable results. They have an enjoyable and life-enriching experience and return home with many great memories of their time spent in Ukraine? No, silly, this is the world of bad horror films, where unkempt, wild-eyed Europeans have made a national sport out of murdering hapless American tourists. You know what happens next.
There's one way in which Chernobyl Diaries distinguishes itself, and that's in the haunting setting of real ghost town Pripyat, a town abandoned during the Chernobyl disaster and left to fall into eerie decay over the years. It's a fantastic setting for a horror film, and the first half does look good and have some genuinely atmospheric moments as our tourists embark on a guided tour of the town with their predictably shifty Ukranian guide Uri.
Then the van is sabotaged and they're forced to spend the night in Pripyat being hunted down by wild dogs and menacing blurry figures. It's difficult to really care if anyone survives as the dull cast make a series of stupid decisions that enable them to run shrieking from one location to the next while the camera jitters madly about them and they're occasionally seized by more menacing blurs and dragged off to a shrieky and unseen death. Sometimes they stop shrieking long enough to declare something profound along the lines of 'We've got to get the f*** out of here/This is not f***** happening/Not without my brother', etc. I saw this film the day after I made a long-haul flight with a severe cold which left me mostly deaf in one ear, and I suspect I'd have enjoyed Chernobyl Diaries more if I'd lost hearing in the other ear too. The dialogue really is that poor and cliched.
As for our blurry antagonists, they're never really seen much. On one hand, this feels cheap and lazy, on the other, given that they're supposedly the mutated survivors of a very real and recent tragedy, perhaps it's for the best. Don't expect any surprise twists or revelations that justify the use of Chernobyl victims or gives them any real depth or motivation. They're movie monsters, mercilessly chasing down pretty young tourists because that's what monsters do. Chernobyl Diaries is essentially a zombie film with fast, agile 'zombies', somewhat like 28 Days Later except terrible in almost every way.
Poor taste aside, it also fails as an effective horror film. The most alarming moment comes courtesy of a radioactive bear shambling unexpectedly into the screen, akin to the 'cat jumping out of the closet' moment more usually seen in horror films, but truthfully, Chernobyl Diaries would have probably been a better film if it just stuck with the radioactive bears as its primary antagonist. Better yet, make them the protagonists bravely defending their home against waves of nosy, generic and thoroughly unlikeable tourists. It would have been a much better movie.
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