Thursday, May 24, 2012
Review of CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)
- Rated R for violence, some bloody images and pervasive language.
- Starring Devin Kelley, Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney, Olivia Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko
- Written by Oren Peli and Carey & Shane Van Dyke
- Directed by Brad Parker
- Running time: 1hr 25min
This horror film is trying to ride the wave of recent found footage movies like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY... at least that's what the marketing wants you to believe. It's actually NOT a found footage movie filmed with a video camera. It's an actual work of fiction, with the action carefully storyboarded and set up.
Yes, there are characters in this, but they don't really matter. We have a pair of brothers, Chris (who lives in the Czech Republic) and Paul, Chris's girlfriend Natalie, and Natalie's friend Amanda. Chris and his bunch are visiting Paul, who has a killer idea to go on a (not quite legal) tour of where the Chernobyl nuclear reactor was, and all the buildings nearby. They are led by a shady tour guide named Uri in a big van, and are also joined by another couple. Once they arrive, things aren't quite right as they find a dead mutated fish, and a big bear that almost mauls them in one of the buildings. They are just about to leave when, of course, the van won't start. Whoops! Now it's a real horror film! With mutant wolves and zombie like creatures roaming about, they must try to survive and escape this horrific place.
Just like any other horror film, the plot is pretty basic offering nothing original what-so-ever. The acting is not that great. Sadowski is pretty irritating as the know-it-all, Paul. McCartney is a whiny pud. The girls are much better, especially Devin Kelley as Amanda, who ends up pulling herself together and is kind of the heroine of the whole piece. She does some solid acting. I also liked Diatchenko as Uri, who is just the right amount of creepy as the tour guide.
The first 20 minutes or so were a bit rough as I really didn't want to hang out with these characters as we got to know them. It doesn't help that the writers have only given the actors pretty standard dialogue to work with. But once they get to the site, director Brad Parker is able to generate some real tension. He films everything with a handheld camera. It's not headache inducing, but it moves just enough to create an uneasy feeling, which is effective. There were many long takes that just follow characters as they're being chased by creatures, which amped up the tension. I also did like that bear moment, which came out of nowhere. I jumped a bit there. I like that a lot of the horror stuff like the creatures and violence were mostly off screen. We see glimpses but then the camera turns away, leaving our imagination to fill in the gaps. In a world where the motto seems to be "the gorier the better", this was a refreshing approach.
The ending is typical for a horror film, and it was a fitting one. However, during the finale I began getting bored because I didn't have any emotional investment in these characters. I didn't care who lived or died. And that's too bad cause I actually thought the direction was quite good, and there were a few real scary sequences that worked. Overall, I can't quite recommend it. I can see the average horror junkie looking for some cheap scares and are more forgiving to generic horror movie conventions digging it enough. I just would've liked to see this promising premise followed through with some worthy characters. Since it's just a horror film, is that too much to ask for? It might be.
**1/2 (out of ****)