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Chernobyl Diaries – 6

Director – Bradley Parker

Cast – Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Jesse McCartney, Nathan Phillips, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Olivia Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko

Release Year – 2012

Reviewed by John of the Dead

As a student of environmental studies I am quite familiar with the Chernobyl incident that plagued the Soviet Union’s Ukraine 25 years ago. When I learned that the Chernobyl site was the inspiration of a horror film I was pretty darn stoked that the two elements would be mashed together in one hopefully spooky experience, and I must say that despite its faults Chernobyl Diaries did an OK job providing such horror. Conjured up from the mind of Oren Peli, the man behind the Paranormal Activity franchise, this effort gives us a cool story made interesting by its location as well as some good horror that I expected but still came off unexpected in the end.

Four friends join two newlywed strangers in the Ukraine for an experience of a lifetime, an experience of “extreme tourism”. Their tour guide, an ex Russiam Spetznaz soldier named Yuri, takes them on an adventure to the town of Pripyat, an abandoned town that borders the Chernobyl site that was abandoned overnight 25 years ago. The plan is to spend the day there with free reign over what should be an abandoned town, but soon after their fun begins they learn that they are not alone and a deadly foe lurks within the many dark shadows of the town they should have avoided.

As I mentioned earlier, this story employing the Chernobyl location was what had me intrigued going into this watch and I am pretty sure it was what drew many others to this flick as well. Thankfully the location idea was quite genius as it already came with an eerie spook way before the antagonists hit the screen – an important thing to note given it does take roughly half the film before the carnage begins. The first half consists mainly of the development following the six protagonists and their tour guide going through obstacles to arrive at Pripyat and then the following enjoyment as they tour the old city that seems to still be years from recovery due to its lack of noise and wildlife. Eventually they do begin to hear noises, and that is when they are introduced to terrors they never saw coming. The terror hits at nightfall, providing the perfect atmosphere for things to get going, and for the most part I was enjoying the carnage that would take up the latter half of the film. Our protagonists are constantly bombarded by unseens terrors attacking them from all angles within the many shadows and shadowy corners that surround them, ultimately boiling up to a Hills Have Eyes feel taking place at Chernobyl instead of the desert. The character-play written into the film was genius, giving us likable characters that you can relate to and even feel sorry for as they fall victim to a “vacation” they should have avoided. I really do not want to give too much away, but given the radioactive material still present at the factory you can expect some mutated beings of some sort as the antagonists. The look of the beings was positive, as were their mannerisms, but the biggest flaw with the film was that they spent too much time hidden from the viewer. We never really get a good look at them as they tend to stick to the shadows and are only shown outside of the shadows in very quick glances, which in the end left me unsatisfied with the horror. Had we been actually bombarded with the creatures I would have found much more joy in the horror, but instead the filmmakers decided to hold back and I really believe it hurt them in the end.

First-time director Bradley Parker did a pretty good job with this piece, taking full advantage of their excellent location and giving us superb atmosphere and great camerawork to make use of the many dark corners adorning the Pripyat and Chernobyl scenes. His execution during the developmental first half was great, keeping me engaged in what was going on despite not showing much in regards to the horror. There was a constant sense of dread throughout the film that also aided in keeping the viewer engaged as you never know when something unfortunate is going to happen to the protagonists. Of course his direction picks up when the horror picks up, giving us many tense scenes that made full use of the excellent sets and subsequent atmosphere. The look and mannerisms of the creatures was great too, with them coming in all shapes and sizes and moving quickly but not running like the “infected” we see these days. The only problem with these creatures is that we rarely see them in their entirety and are forced to mainly watch them move around in the shadows. Sure it’s creepy at first, but eventually them moving within the shadows and rarely manifesting gets old and leaves you wanting more.

Overall, Chernobyl Diaries is a flick that makes good use of its location and provides incredible atmosphere, and while the horror was spooky at times it was not used to its full potential and left myself (and many others) let down in the end. This isn’t a waste of time and may be worth discount theater prices, but I don’t recommend you pay full theater price for this one.

Rating: 6/10

  1. Andrés Erre Dos
    May 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    It has a good pint, the story is what it is, we´ve watched so many movies in that style, but, on the other hand, I disagree with you, I mean, getting the creatures in the shadows is a wink to classic movies and it gives an old school touch to the final result.

    • May 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      I did like the creatures being kept in the shadows for the developmental phases of the film, which was the case in the classics we know and love, but even the classics ultimately revealed the horror to the viewer. Not all films do, just like the Paranormal Activity franchise that never once really showed the true look of the malevolent presence in the homes, but in this case I really think the revealing of the creatures would have helped Chernobyl Diaries. I cannot speak for everyone, although many bigger reviewers gave it the same rating as I did, but if you enjoyed this then I am happy for you. The ultimate goal in horror films is for the viewer to be frightened and enjoy the experience, and it seems that you got what you wanted, hopefully making this one worth your money. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your input on any other films I reviewed or will review.

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