Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
The Chernobyl nuclear plant accident was a disaster of Biblical proportions. An accident that killed thirty-four people at the time, has killed hundreds of people since and left a humungous chunk of land utterly uninhabitable. Chernobyl Diaries is a horror film about tourists “checking out” the devastation and desolation of Prypiat (which – fact fans – is something that you can actually do. Book your tickets now!), where nearly 50,000 were evacuated immediately, leaving everything behind.
Our six tourists join extreme tourism guide Uri (the excellent Dimitri Diatchenko) on his latest trip to Prypiat, forced to take a different route when government officials stop them due to some ‘maintenance’ work going on. Unfortunately, once they arrive in the centre of town, Uri’s van breaks down / is sabotaged and they’re stuck in Prypiat overnight. Then the group quickly realize they are not alone…
Similar to the uncomfortable blasé attitude the creators of Ghost Game had to the Cambodian death camps, Chernobyl Diaries tip-toes dangerously along the line of respect and dignity, never mentioning the death-toll (or that anyone actually died!) and failing to treat the incident with the quiet and disturbed reverence it deserves.
Most people probably won’t care about this, but it really doesn’t matter how offensive to history Chernobyl Diaries is because it’s still a movie battered with problems.
Chernobyl Diaries is basically The Hills Have Eyes via The London Dungeon. The first thirty minutes are superb, with a great build up and some interesting characters; the exterior settings are amazing and haunting even in the daylight. The atmosphere trickles with dread throughout and the location scouts and designers should be congratulated.
Unfortunately, when the violence begins, Chernobyl Diaries completely falls off the rails. It seems very similar to Insidious in how it appears someone thought “what would be scary and in a nuclear disaster zone?” and then slapped it into the script without really thinking about consistency, sense or a conclusion that wasn’t as daft as a bucket of clowns.
We witness mutant fish, feral (and oddly well groomed) dogs, super-strong cannibals, a horde of zombies dressed like mime-artists, a little girl with hearing problems and one utterly pointless and totally random CGI bear… If these seemingly random elements all tied together in a cohesive end then it’d be excusable, but the final ten minutes simply don’t make ANY SENSE whatsoever compared to the preceding eighty minutes. It’s one of those ‘hindsight’ films that might make you a little furious the more you think about it.
It’s upsetting because Chernobyl Diaries has a great trailer and a genuinely intriguing start, yet this potential is squandered entirely by the creators. It’s not even very scary, which is a travesty.
The trailer – in fact – makes it look like a ghost story in the vein of Paranormal Activity, and it would’ve been much better if it had been! Strangely the marketing isn’t pushing the “from the writer, director and star of The Asylum’s Titanic 2″ angle, instead focusing on Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli to sell it’s wares. Perhaps it’s Titanic 2 helmer Shane Van Dyke’s influence that sunk this particular ship into the depths of confusion, but whatever the case it’s horribly disappointing.
Oddly Chernobyl Diaries feels like it was originally supposed to be a found footage film and then changed its mind at the last minute. The giddy camerawork might make some feel seasick but most will question why it sometimes feels like it’s being filmed on an iPhone. Unless we’re seeing some amazing landscapes and haunting interiors Bradley Parker’s debut direction is lacking in substance and style.
Overall I’d recommend watching the first thirty minutes of Chernobyl Diaries (up until Uri leaves the van to ‘investigate’ something in the dark) then walk out of the cinema and think of your own ending. Trust me, whatever you come up with will make 100% more sense than what you’ll see in the cinema! Even if you’re David Lynch.
Unfortunately The Chernobyl Diaries is failed potential. I look forward to the sequel…