Monday, 8 October 2012

Review : Chernobyl Diaries (2012)


Bradley Parker


Oren Peli (screenplay), Carey Van Dyke (screenplay), and 2 more credits »


Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski and Olivia Dudley

If there has ever been a location that's tailor made for horror fiction, it's Chernobyl and the surrounding area, most notably the city of Prypyat. Its a location that send chills up the spine without any need for embellishment or enhancement. A real world place succumbed to a tragedy that disturbs and disquiets at our most base instinctual level. The awful accident that happened there is still ongoing, some twenty five years later, the countless lives destroyed, the unnatural births, the fight to keep that damned reactor from leaking....all downright freaky, (and saddening) shit.

The beautiful township of Prypyat, where the majority of the nuclear facilities workers lived, with their families in tow, has become legend. After days of exposure to high levels of radiation, the poor souls who lived there were eventually given the truth about the accident that happened only two miles from where they fed their kids. Evacuation was immediate, and within 40 or so hours, the once vibrant and beautiful city was nothing more than a ghost town; ready to be reclaimed by nature, and never to be filled with human life again. It remains to this day a testament to man's folly, and in case your unaware of the place, (shame on you), just go look it up. For me, its like peering through a looking glass into our inevitable future. One day, all cities will be like this. We're humans.We'lll fuck up again on a far grander scale, (remember Fukishima?). It's in our nature, and it gives me the shits.

Anyway, enough with my inane drivel; what about the film?

CHERNOBYL DIARIES tells the tale of six tourists who decide to get their jollies by visiting the legendary abandoned city with the help of some big Ukranian fella who runs an 'extreme tourism' business. The radiation levels have gone down, he assures them, and its safe to enter the dead city for two hours. Sounds like good, creepy fun? Well, it's not. Theres something in the city, and whatever it is, it doesn't want them to leave.

A good concept. Good enough to get a whole lot of horror fans excited. Its also written by one Oren Peli of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY fame, so there's a chance that this one will tread similar high ground.

Oh, nice view but.....

I'm happy  to say that while I love straightforward slasher films with this type of scenario, I believe the Chernobyl location deserves a little better, and this effective little horror piece goes for a very different tone from what one may expect. While its threadbare setup is old-hat, the execution is very well done. Suspense, dread and grasping desperation are the name of the game here. The violence is low key, the action is slow-burn, and the atmosphere reigns. All is as it should be.

As I mentioned, the film is surpringly light on the gore, and this is for good reason. While not a hand-held film, CHERNOBYL utilizes some of the techniques that make those films work so well, (when they work at all). Instead of lingering on the brutality, the camera often pulls away just as things get red, lending the feel that the camera is our eyes; that we are present in the city with these mis(tour)guided bastards. We're also never really sure what the threat is until the closing minutes, (though we have a good idea), as the camera prowls the locations, rarely settling on anything for any length of time. We catch glimpes of unknown horrors, and the effect is a very disorienting one. Its easy to get on board with the nightmare these tourists are going through when you feel like your sat there beside em. Remember ILS (THEM)? Then you get the idea.

The fact that its a real-world location really heightens that level of immersion. Its very easy to imagine this sort of shit going down in Prypyat.

The film recreates the inherent foreboding and sadness that lies over the city very effectively, using mute colors, wide shots and naturalistic lighting. It feels entirely organic. Never mind the living threats our gang have to contend with...the long, decaying corridors of once vibrant housing blocks, the dead trees and the deafening silence of the place are enough to elicit fear all by themselves. Much like THE DESCENT, the location here is as much of a danger, (and a source of terror to the audience), as the threat that awaits in its dark, desolate corners. It's amazing that it took this long for someone to set a horror film here.

Onto the group we're spending our time with. We have to feel for them, and luckily, while they are all pretty bland and annoying in a variety of 'American Horror Movie' ways, we can still relate. I never cared for the fates of any of them, personally (save the tour guide), but the situation itself was immersive enough to draw out a connection. We may not like them all, ( I had a huge problem with the younger brother who looks about twelve and sounds about nine), but its easy to feel sympathetic to such a desperate plight, no-matter how lacking in balls and survival skills the victims are. They moan and cry and act like little bitches, but I gotta be honest, I'd be doing the same, (though hopefully, with a better set of instincts that could save my radiated ass).

Which brings us to the negatives. There are some giant leaps of logic to overcome if your to enjoy this one, and the group consistently make the dumbest survival choices imaginable. Reminded me of FROZEN'S genius' at some points. I couldn't help wondering how these guys managed to tie their damn shoelaces or feed themselves cornflakes, never mind how they would survive a dead city filled with poisonous air, hungry wildlife and other such scary shit.

Also the film does feel overly familiar in many ways. I won't give anything away here, but you can rest assured that the threats faced by the group are ones you'll have seen before.  For many, it'll be tough to let this shit slide, but if you can handle such flaws in the script, and some well-established cliches, the location and genuine chills should pull you through.

CHERNOBYL DIARIES will take some shit for exploiting a real disaster, (and that's debatable), and it'll bring forth a whole lot of hatred from the crowd who wanted yet another bloodbath like the similarly irradiated, (and unassailably cool) THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake; but for those who appreciate a slow build in tension, a dense and despairing atmosphere and a very keen eye for what  scares us, it's a solid enough movie. We're a ways off from the definitive Chernobyl film, but in the meantime, this is a scary, fun ride that may have coasted on its setting to a large degree, but garnered enough good will to tip the scales in its favor. Its worth a look.


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