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Chernobyl Diaries
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Insert Gauche ""Healthy Glow" Comment Here"
2 stars

Oftentimes, I will begin a review by copping to the fact that I may not have been eagerly anticipating the film under discussion but to suggest that I had feelings along those lines in regards to the new horror title "Chernobyl Diaries" would be a massive understatement. Between the monumentally cheesy and borderline tacky premise, the fact that it was the latest brainchild from the guy responsible for those idiotic and inexplicably popular "Paranormal Activity" films and the studio's refusal to screen it in advance for anyone other than certain members of the easy-to-please genre press, there was nothing to suggest that there was anything about it of any potential value and as I slipped into my seat for the surprisingly crowded midnight show (populated almost entirely by loudmouthed teens), I was under no illusion that it would be anything other than a colossal waste of time, effort and money. Earlier that day, however, I just happened to undergo two of the more dispiriting screenings in recent memory--one for an amazingly ill-considered and unbearably mawkish melodrama and the other for a would-be comedy so devoid of humor or energy that after watching what felt like the first hour or so, I was horrified to look at my watch and discover that only 17 minutes had actually elapsed--and at that point, virtually any film would have to come across as an improvement in comparison. If nothing else, "Chernobyl Diaries" is certainly any film and as a result, it came across somewhat more painlessly than it might have than, say, if I had watched after a double bill of "Bernie" and "Moonrise Kingdom."

As the film opens, a trio of fresh-faced and terminally bland young Americans are on an overseas sightseeing trip when they make a stop in Kiev to spend the night with the ne'er-do-well brother of one of them. The next day, the brother convinces them that he has a better idea than their planned sojourn to Moscow. It seems that he knows a guy in the "extreme tourism" industry who will, for a fee, schlep people into Pripyat, the city that housed the workers at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant before it was completely evacuated in a matter of minutes following the devastating plant meltdown back in 1986, and take them on a tour of the abandoned buildings. Under normal circumstances, I suspect that most people might shy away from a strange Russian guy offering to shuttle people into a former nuclear hot zone in a beat-up van but hey, he does have a Geiger counter and so the dopes, along with a pair of Australian backpackers, are off. There is a minor hitch when checkpoint guards refuse them admittance by stating that the ghost town is undergoing "maintenance" but luckily, our guard knows a short cut and they are soon experiencing such delights as a mutated fish, a foraging bear and lots and lots of Soviet-era architecture that has seen better days. When darkness falls, they get ready to leave but discover that the van's engine has been tampered with and that it sounds as though there may be something else out there. Without getting into to much detail, let it be said that there is something out there and the rest of the film finds our heroes trying to get back to civilization while avoiding whoever or whatever is now following them, no doubt ruing the fact that they have unwittingly stumbled into one of the few situations in which a vacation to the Wisconsin Dells might have actually been preferable.

Horror buffs are a fairly hardened lot for the most part but my guess is that even they, for the most part, might blanch at the notion of a film that takes its inspiration for what is essentially a junky B picture from a real-life catastrophe such as the Chernobyl disaster, especially since the filmmakers could have just as easily made up some fake nuclear accident and it would have had just as much impact since the target audience wasn't even born when the actual event took place. (Lucky for them, the guide helpfully explains what went down for those working from "improved" high school textbooks). Beyond that, the film has most of the other flaws that are such a common part of most cheapo horror spectaculars--the characters are poorly delineated, the acting is universally dreadful (though the ladies are cute enough), the story is unbelievably nonsensical, too many scares are of the kind in which something suddenly appears in the frame for a "BOO!" moment or 37 and the finale is a bit of "WTF?" that pales in comparison to virtually any film in recent memory not named "The Devil Inside." And yet, once things finally get going (and it does take a while for that to happen), debuting director Bradley Parker does demonstrate a certain flair for the haunted house-style filmmaking that "Chernobyl Diaries" is a part of--the camerawork is reasonably impressive (and the film is blessedly not one of those bits of found-footage foolishness) and some of the sights seen are just weird enough to make an impact, largely because he doesn't linger on them for too long so that they lose their impact. I also kind of liked the fact that the story did not unfold entirely as I expected it to--this is not to say that what occurs is any sort of genius but anytime a film like this can upend expectations, that is a good thing in my book.

Look, I am not exactly recommending "Chernobyl Diaries" by any means--it takes forever to start, it has a terrible ending and the basic premise is skeezy enough that most viewers will want to take a "Silkwood"-style shower afterwards in a desperate attempt to try to feel clean afterwards. However, it does have glimmers of eye-opening strangeness here and there and when seen under the right circumstances--with a bunch of like-minded friends in a crowded and noisy auditorium filled with people helpfully offering advice to the characters or chastising them for their stupidity--I can see how the entire experience could inspire the same kind of base amusement as a run-down carnival ride that you know from the start is going to be a rip-off and yet you indulge in anyway just for the grubby hell of it. At the very least, a film like "Chernobyl Diaries" feels as though the people involved actually put a little bit of effort into it, which is more than I can say for the likes of "Battleship" or "Men in Black III." While filing out of my screening, I overheard the kid next to me turn to his friends and say "Eh. . .I've seen worse" and not counting the last 10 minutes here, so have you.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23473&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/25/12 12:43:26
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User Comments

8/06/13 Langano Doesn't get much worse than this. 1 stars
10/13/12 action movie fan unoriginal but scary well paced and effective paranomanl activity knockoff 4 stars
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  25-May-2012 (R)
  DVD: 16-Oct-2012


  DVD: 16-Oct-2012

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