“Chernobyl Diaries” Great Until the End

Posted: May 1, 2013 in Cover Your Mouth
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
the public swimming pool in the ghost town of ...

the public swimming pool in the ghost town of Priypat near Chernobyl. Modified with Gimp, by Hiob (size, color, light, contrast) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chernobyl/Pripyat Exclusion Zone (025.8071)

Chernobyl/Pripyat Exclusion Zone (025.8071) (Photo credit: Pedro Moura Pinheiro)

On my days off of my day job, I like to watch and analyze horror movies. I’ve seen thousands, at least, and very few scare me. “Chernobyl Diaries” is another example of a decent horror movie that’s maybe not so scary. The sad thing is, it would have been scarier if the writer hadn’t been so in love with his concept that he botched the ending.

“Chernobyl Diaries” was written by Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, directed by Bradley Parker, and released in 2012. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but the gist of the story is that a handful of tourists participate in an “extreme tour” into the apparently empty and still poisonous city of Pripyat, once home to the fifty thousand Chernobyl workers and their families. While in Pripyat, the small tour group encounters compelling and mounting evidence that they are not alone, as they should be, in the blast zone. After some obvious tampering leaves their only vehicle useless, the tourists and their guide are stranded in the blast zone, where they learn dark secrets about Pripyat and its previous inhabitants.

I hate to spoil a film, in case any of you readers decide to actually check it out, so I’ll do my best to review it without saying too much. I look for a number of things when I’m watching a horror movie, but most of them have to do with the quality of the story. First and foremost, I want a story to make sense. The horror genre in general lends to the lazy writer who would rather throw in a dues ex machina than actually write a cohesive story. Thankfully, “Chernobyl Diaries” did make perfect logical sense. There were no moments throughout where I want to chuck my bedside lamp at the television. However, the writer overshot the ending, which is my second least favorite horror-stereotype. Every story has a natural ending, and this story had one too, but the writer ignored it, over-wrote it, and left me wanting to chuck my bedside lamp at the television. Man, did he murder a decent piece of work. If you check out this film, look for the “natural ending” I speak of (about ten minutes before the actual ending) and let me know if you agree that Peli and the Van Dykes had to become Gumbies to reach for what they came up with.

Other elements that I enjoyed were the setting, of course, the characters to an extent, the villains to an extent, and the filming style. Let me explain these:

The setting was brilliant. I was immediately taken with the concept for the story in “Chernobyl Diaries” because I can’t think of a creepier place to spend a few hours than a poisonous ghost town. The movie images don’t lie about the state of the place– it really does still look as though someone dropped a can of grey paint over everything in the town. There really are creepy dolls wedged under swing sets and apartments with plates still on the tables. The setting was believable and thus terrifying and definitely lent a helping hand to this movie. Without the setting, it would have been just another spotty horror film with a questionable plot that overran the almost good storyline.

The characters were alright but the actors did a great job bringing some life to this fairly static element. I could have completely done without the forced friction between the brother characters since it added nothing relevant to the story. The movie would have been the same no matter what the characters were doing. I suppose that the brothers offered the viewer an opportunity to invest more deeply in the characters, but I personally found their constant bickering to be more annoying than serving of the story. Once again, though, the actors did a fair job and I enjoyed (for once!) that the female characters weren’t wilting wusses waiting for rescue.

The villains were fantastic and totally creepifying right up until the end, when the writer committed an egregious no-no and introduced a new villain in the final five minutes of the film. Yuck and enough said.

Finally, I loved the filming method they used for this movie. I’m a big fan of the “personal video” horror movie and yes, I still adore “The Blair Witch Project,” so I liked this. Let me clarify and say that “Chernobyl Diaries” didn’t include a bunch of camera-toting characters, but whoever held the camera appeared to be just behind everyone throughout the story. The camera work was a little jerky and imperfect, which lent a huge slice of believability to this film.

All said, I liked this movie, but for the things I’ve already complained about. I recommend you watch this film if you like the “personal video” style of filming or if you get into really cool film environments. “Chernobyl Diaries” is NOT a waste of two hours and you will be entertained, unless you’re even surlier than I am. Which I would find hard to believe.

Until next time, readers, don’t forget to eat your Under-Belly!

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