I am certain that most of us remember the Chernobyl disaster which occurred in 1986. It was a tragedy of epic proportions that up to this day, the area is still declared as uninhabitable. Well, I am also certain that most of us also know that Oren Peli made a killing with his “Paranormal Activity” franchise which may have opened the doors for him to make any movie he wanted. He co-produced “Insidious” and the TV series “The River”, and now it seems like Peli is trying to capture the magic he had captured with the “Paranormal Activity” and now tries his hand in adapting his story “The Diary of Lawson Oxford” with director Bradley Parker at the helm with the fictional film “The Chernobyl Diaries”. Nope, the film is not another “real footage” gimmick and dispenses of the documentary style cinematography that seemed to have become the staple of recent horror movies.
The film supposedly follows a so-called “true story” as a group of tourists going around Europe decide to take up an offer of extreme tours with a man named Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) to visit the remains a small town called Pripyat which served as a former home to the workers of the nuclear power plant. Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), his brother, Chris (Jesse McCarthy) and his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley) with her friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) believe that it would be a killer photo op to be in the Chernobyl site. They are joined by other tourists, Zoe and Michael (Ingrid Berdal and Nathan Philips) as Uri brings them to the infamous site. Despite not being allowed entry due to “maintenance”, the group sneaks through the back woods. Now, it seems like there is a sinister secret that had been left behind by the disaster that may cause them their very lives…
Let’s get one thing straight. Oren Peli’s creations in the past may have left some horror fans aching for more. However, even when I thought that “Insidious” was a fine exercise in atmospheric horror, it was still drowned in cliché. “Chernobyl Diaries” is a film that carries a lot of clichés and below average characters. I know, sometimes simplicity can still strike a chord in horror, but there was something that was just missing with this horror film. I do not mind cliché, as long as the screenplay does something interesting with its characters. It has a good concept, but the vision and the execution of the film felt rather like ‘the same old tricks’ that we’ve seen in other horror films.
This film, can be quite a chore to watch. The film had been limited severely by the scope of its script, and it required a huge suspension of disbelief. Yes, I have seen some real documentaries that granted access to the Chernobyl site, and yes, the area had been declared a forbidden zone. The problem with the script is that the film relies on the viewer’s ability to buy into the fact that one could easily sneak into such an area. Not sure, but it is kind of hard to buy into that theory. I am sure that it possible but the ideas behind it were a little too underdeveloped. Also, the characters are rather uninteresting as you can tell from the beginning what their fate would be. Everyone felt like they were fodder and it was not a matter of “if“, but rather how and when they would die.
Granted, Parker’s direction did have some credible scenes that can generate horror. Sure, his style and timing have already been utilized in other horror movies that depend of the feeling of claustrophobia and helplessness. Parker uses shadows, the darkness and the feeling of being chased. The horrors behind “Diaries” come from the environment and the feeling of the unknown. I have to admit, Parker did get my curiosity and I was intrigued with how he was going to wrap things up. He utilizes imagery that can be creepy and some details are rather grisly. The direction also tries to use some jump scars that can be scary if a little overwrought in timing. However, much of the film depended on the viewer’s ability to buy into stupid decisions and frankly, much of the film is spent with the characters looking around to find who just went missing. It was all ‘by the numbers’ from there, as our folks stumble around and as they do, we get to see our antagonists little by little.
Once you get a hold of what is going on, “Chernobyl Diaries” pitch a pay off that felt more like a spin off “The Hills Have Eyes”, which really wasn’t that clever in the first place. Not really sure, the film does feel a little insensitive to the tragic events of the Chernobyl disaster. I know, this probably wasn’t Peli’s intentions, but having some fictional horror film sensationalize and rationalize the disaster. Making a fictional tale about the aftermath of such a tragedy feels a little cheap. But what do I know? It has been reported that Peli received letters from the children of the disaster praising him. Maybe there is some truth to all of this? Be that as it may, the film feels a little incomplete and just as things started to get interesting, it seemed to have stopped short. “Diaries” may not be a horrible movie, but it sure wasn’t a good one. At least it wasn’t another horror remake….
Star Rating: The problem is twofold. On the one hand, when you see as many movies like Chernobyl Diaries as I have, you tend to develop a feel for them; you become accustomed to the pacing and editing techniques and know when to cover your ears, squint your eyes, and sink into your chair in preparation for a popout scare. When the moment has passed, disappointment sets in, for the scare was an unrelated throwaway gag that doesn’t advance the plot. Its … more