It’s almost depressing that my return to Horrorview is a review of the Chernobyl Diaries. Speaking to Head Cheeze about a week ago, I thought it to be a good idea that I make a triumphant return to film reviewing. “Do what you, love!” I told myself. “Spread the gospel; bring them films that matter!” And then I forked over $20 to the smiling clerk at the Regal Cinemas, only to be punished with absolute boredom and trickery for 88 minutes. So here we are…… me $20 poorer, and you, the reader, about to become educated on how to kill a perfectly suitable plot for a horror film with absolutely the shittiest execution possible.
The premise for the Chernobyl Diaries is pretty straight forward at first – brother Chris (played by the awfully transparent Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Amanda and the third wheel, recently dumped Natalie (Olivia Dudley), trek to Europe to meet up with Chris’ brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), in Kiev. A planned one day trip to Moscow to see the sights (really?) goes out the window when Paul lines up an “extreme tour” with a sketchy ex-Spetznaz tour guide named Uri, to visit the surrounding areas of Chernobyl, particularly the city of Pripyat. Of course, needing more fodder for the kill scenes, two more expendable characters join the cast in hiker-honeymooners, Michael and Zoe. Off we go to the deserted city of Pripyat, to see how thousands of families just picked up and left the night of reactor 4’s meltdown at Chernobyl. At this point in the film, you can completely determine who dies and in what order, due to the slasher film hierarchy, although everyone could have been expendable for all I cared.
Running into a little static from the Russian military at the Pripyat main checkpoint, our van load of “extreme” tourists are forced to take a back road into town that only Uri knows about. Surprisingly enough, this backroad is pretty well laid out and after a pit stop at a contaminated lake, our sacrificial lambs make it to the killing fields of Pripyat. It is here that this movie earns its 1 ½ skulls, as aside from the incredible deserted scenery, there was nothing to shake a stick at. Dilapidated buildings, amusement park rides and the incredible portrayal of a small sect of civilization leaving their lives behind was certainly breathtaking. Eerie to say the least, the town of Pripyat could have served as a set piece for an incredible showdown between human and not-so-human counterparts. Unfortunately, the barren setting must have been some sort of foreshadowing for the remainder of the movie, as NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENS! There’s the big twist, folks! No kill scenes to be shown, nary a tittie to grace the screen or drug induced rampage by the tree-hugging hiker couple! What…. The…. Fuck? As my friend Rad wrote to me “The person who edited the trailer for the film was a fucking genius!
Conversely, the writers (Shane and Carey Van Dyke) and director, Bradley Parker, were the antithesis of genius. Literally 30 minutes of this film was spent on traversing corridors and dark rooms with spooky sounds playing in the background. All well and good if there was an actual payoff. I kid you not when I say that you barely even get a glimpse of the mutants running amok in Pripyat! It could have been a pack of Patrick Stewart stunt doubles running for the Star Trek set for all the audience knew. If you are going to present an audience with paper thin characters, at least give them some visual fodder with the monsters or a good kill scene. Don’t leave them hanging for an exciting climax and deliver the ol’ “let your imagination do the work” bullshit line. That only works in films that pique the audience’s interest, not bores them to sleep while studio big Oren Peli pulls his cock out and rapes their wallets.
After the film ended, and the majority of the audience waited around for the punchline, we left the theater puzzled by what just happened. Fleeced by a snake oil salesman, duped by the Sham-Wow pitchman, voting for George W. Bush……. All relative feelings at this point. I overheard a father tell his son “Well, at least it was based on a true story.” I had to laugh. Yes, a true story. It is true that reactor 4 did melt down at Chernobyl. Perhaps an even bigger truth is that Hollywood horror continues to prove time and time again that the teat is running dry for fresh ideas that execute well. On a side note, anyone that mentions that Chernobyl Diaries is just a rip-off of the Hills Have Eyes is completely discrediting the efforts of Hills. To even remotely compare those two films is more wrong than two siblings fucking by the glow of an irradiated reactor core.