Published on May 28th, 2012 | by dvdpinson0
Chernobyl Diaries Keeps The Monsters in the Dark
In “Chernobyl Diaries” there is something menacing lurking in the dark. Of course this is frequently the case in many horror films but this one differentiates itself by keeping those faceless monsters in the shadows the entire time. We never get the big reveal, the monster moment, or to put it bluntly, any form of payoff what so ever. “Chernobyl Diaries” is all tease.
The set up: Young kids vacationing in far off land. The movie opens with a montage of video footage showing Chris (Jesse McCartney, known for his delicate vocal performance as the voice of Theodore in the “Alvin and the Chipmunk” Trilogy), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley) and third wheel Amanda (Devin Kelley) traipsing through Europe as they head to Kiev, Russia to meet up with Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski).
This opening “found footage” is interesting. The film is co-written and produced by Oren Peli, the man behind the “Paranormal Activity” series as well as creator of the recent, short-lived television show “The River”. Peli is addicted to the “found footage” genre and by beginning the film this way and transitioning into standard narrative storytelling it makes the viewer aware that Peli is leaving the popular format behind on this one. Considering the “Paranormal” movies were much more chilling, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.
Meanwhile…. in Kiev, brother Paul has a silly idea. Why not visit the abandoned city of Pripyat, which is located right next to the Chernobyl reactor that melted down in 1986? They call it “Extreme Tourism” but it really is just the only way to get a bunch of stupid kids out to a creepy setting so our mysterious fiends can pick them off individually.
The abandoned city is an effective backdrop for a horror film. Once the sun goes down the weight of the solitude can be felt but unfortunately you can’t really see anything. Most of the last act of the film is told using nothing but flashlight. It’s too easy to disengage when you are only listening to a scary movie, especially one with this dialogue. Any time one of our actors opens their mouth to speak; the movie grinds to a halt. Most of what is screamed during the duration is the names of the characters as well as various curse words.
Paul: Chris!! Chris! (Walks a bit) Chris! F**k! Chris!
Natalie: Chris! Where’s Chris!
Paul: Chris!! F**k!
Now I’m a big fan of Mr. Peli’s but this one is total disappointment. What he is usually able to do is create scary moments that don’t rely on jolting sound effects and gore. Here, he abandons all that has worked for him in the past and gives us a third rate horror film without any nuance. Maybe he should stick with the “found footage” thing…?