Film Review: Chernobyl Diaries
Chernobyl Diaries is based upon the real life disaster of 1986 and evokes The Hills Have Eyes meets Cloverfield by way of a Fallout 3/Silent Hill-esque setting (Sounds messy? Wait until you see the film!). It follows a bunch of young Americans on a European tour – Chris (singer Jesse McCartney, who gamers will be interested to know voices Roxas and Ventus in the Kingdom Hearts series), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley). They visit Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in Ukraine who suggests that instead of visiting Moscow – as they all planned to do, and where Chris intends to propose to Natalie – they instead go on an ‘extreme tour’ with guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and another adventurer couple to the off-limits ghost town of Prypiat, which is situated below the Chernobyl nuclear plant site of the disaster in which thousands of people were forced to evacuate the city overnight. However, as you would expect from the clichéd way the film sets itself up, they are not alone and the tour begins to take many unexpected, gruesome turns.
There is plenty of great material here to work with; including fantastic derelict locations, but the half-baked production greatly hinders the film. Special effects are awful, and a particular highlight of this was a rather out-of-place CGI bear. Dogs that look like pets rather than savage strays fail to scare and make for some laughable scenes as the cast run in feigned terror. The camerawork – mostly handheld – is at times odd and disengaging, often focusing on the wrong things in a tense scene and shaking like mad during any action sequence. The characters are one-dimensional, wooden, underdeveloped and shallow – so it is hard to feel any sympathy for any of them as they go through their torment. The narrative is clichéd and the script is patchy. Suspense is lost and the film is ultimately not scary. The ending is particularly flat and unimaginative, leaving you with a sour taste in your mouth. But the worst offender of them all is at the very core of this horror movie: the mutants, former residents of the Chernobyl area.
Why are they attacking the tourists? Uri’s been coming to Chernobyl for five years, he states, so why do they attack only now? Are they angry that they’ve intruded? Are they hungry and see them as food? Why haven’t they left ages ago? Why would you want to stay in a radioactive town? The end of the film reveals very little about the nature of these creatures, and leave you with even more frustrating questions. We barely see these mutants, since the camera violently shakes during every action scene. Sometimes it’s best to never see the villains, but when your monsters look like regular people from the back they’re not particularly threatening. Just one or two quick close-up shot would do, a la [REC].
The film is particularly insensitive towards the real sufferers – those who died or were injured in the real disaster of 1986. Seeing the residents as violent mutants, and repeatedly calling the dead creatures in the area ‘disgusting’ whilst freely rummaging through the deserted town and treating it like a tourist site surely is an insult, even if it is ‘only a movie’.
This was a film a horror fan would want to love because of its rich basis, but due to its clichéd and boring nature fails to impress ultimately and leaves you wishing you were watching a much better horror film instead. Stick with films such as [REC], for Chernobyl Diaries is a depthless, tame piece of work.