When I first saw the trailer for Chernobyl Diaries, my initial reaction was apprehension because it seemed like it was just another “found footage” film. It was, after all, written and produced by Oren Peli, the man behind Paranormal Activity. For some reason I keep going back to these types of films even though I can rarely sit though them. This is a topic I’ve touched on before, and each time I keep thinking that this film will be different….which can be interpreted as the definition of insanity. So with Chernobyl Diaries, naturally I thought, once again, that maybe I’ll be able to get through it without spending 80% of the film looking away from the screen.
Thankfully, the trailer was a little misleading on that front. The film focuses on four friends, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), Chris’ girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley) and her friend Amanda (Devin Kelley), who decide to go on an “Extreme Tourism” journey to the abandoned Ukrainian town of Pripyat. Pripyat was the former home of the Chernobyl workers and their families and has been desolate since the nuclear catastrophe that occurred in 1986. The four friends meet up with tour guide and ex-special forces soldier Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and two other travelers, Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and head to Pripyat only to be turned away by guards at a check point. Not ones to take no for an answer (which always leads to bad things), Uri finds a back way in to the creepy town and they all go exploring. Once night begins to fall however, it’s discovered that Uri’s van won’t start and the group is stuck there. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also discover that they aren’t alone.
One of this film’s biggest problems is that it couldn’t decide on just what it wanted to be. Director Bradley Parker couldn’t seem to decide between the ”found footage” shaky-cam style, or that of a standard steadicam. The problem here lies with the fact that with the “found footage” style, there is normally someone, a character, who is doing all the filming. That one aspect is missing from this film, with the exception of the beginning. The film relies on this tactic only to try to ramp up the scares, which weren’t really present to begin with. Horror films can lack in different aspects like filming style and character development (which is another point this film lacked) because with horror films, people go for mainly one reason. To have the shit scared out of them. This is just one more hash mark in the non-existent column. The film plays up the traditional scares which have become so overused the viewer will no doubt know they’re coming. Instead of jumping in their seats, the “scares” aren’t worthy enough for more than an eyeroll….or in the case of my Aunt, who I saw this with, a face palm.
I hate to hack all over films, but sometimes you just can’t help it. The big reveal isn’t big at all and it ends so suddenly there is no explanation into what could have been the driving force of the plot. But I like to think of myself as an optimist and try to find something good. So with that, I’ll say that if anything, this film is educational. If it’s viewed as a cautionary tale on what NOT to do while traveling, then this is THE film to watch. One can learn a lot from a film, even a bad one if they just watch.
1 – Don’t ever agree to visit a town that was abandoned because of a NUCLEAR FREAKING DISASTER! Just….just don’t.
2 – If you’re older brother chides you into going by calling you a pussy, deal with it. You’re life is worth more than being insulted at being called a part of the female anatomy.
3 – Take your bear spray. Because according to this film, it’s possible you’ll encounter one while roaming the upper floors of an apartment complex.
4 – If you hear something in the woods just beyond your eye sight and it’s dark outside…chances are good that it’s bad and you best stay put.
5 – Don’t follow the tour guide when he says he’s going to check out noised referenced in point #4.
6 - Always pack beef jerky. It’s yummy and you may get hungry.
7 – While taking a breather in one of the creepy abandoned buildings, don’t, as a group, turn your back on the friend who is on the verge of going into shock to check out a creepy doll or whatever that wasn’t there a moment before.
8 – If there are dolls anywhere in the vicinity, it’s time to leave. Run, don’t walk, run as fast as you can away from any and all creepy dolls. Because when they’re present, bad shit is afoot.
9 - If you are said friend from point #7, don’t sit with your back exposed to the staircase that heads down. That’s just stupid.
10 – Always pack a flashlight and spare batteries. First aid kits are good too. And a weapon or something that can be substituted as a weapon. Rocket launchers optional.
11 – The phrase “there’s safety in numbers” doesn’t always apply.
12 – Doctors who say they’re there to help then switch to their native language are probably not really going to help and chances are good you’re in deep shit. It’s best to stick with the touristy places on your travels.
I don’t mind seeing crappy movies because some may be so bad they’re good. What bums my vibe are the films that could be so much more. This film’s potential was huge, but the execution sorely lacked imagination. The idea of building a story around the location and what happened in the aftermath of the disaster is rich with potential. Shooting this film on location added to the film, but when the location outshines the cast, there’s a problem. The town itself is creepy on its own. Abandoned towns have a naturally uneasy feeling associated with them, at least to me they do. To see streets that were once bustling but are now quiet and cracked with weeds sprouting through the pavement gives me a sense of discomfort that I can’t describe. That’s the feeling that should have come across here, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
As I mentioned above, you can actually learn something from this film. But let me give you one final tip: read and heed the tips listed above and then you won’t need to go out and spend your hard-earned dough on it.Tags: Chernobyl, Chernobyl Diaries, Chernobyl Diaries review, Devin Kelley, Dimitri Diatchenko, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Nathan Phillips, Olivia Dudley, Oren Peli