[The Social Opportunist] Movie Review – Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Written by Phil June 14, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

I haven’t been to the theatres to see a horror movie is such a long time, which is depressing since I usually find them so enjoyable. However, none of the most recent ones have really grabbed my interest. Then came Chernobyl Diaries! As I’m sure I’ve said many times before, I’m a huge fan of movies and books that combine history and fiction to tell a compelling and exciting story. I had never really studied the story of Chernobyl in school, so all I really knew about the situation was that it had been a nuclear meltdown of catastrophic proportions. I had also heard of the disastrous human toll it took long after the explosion (we’ve all seen the pictures of disfigured babies and animals). This was the perfect (albeit very depressing) jumping off point for a modern-day horror movie. Though I expected to see something like The Hills Have Eyes, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of unique interest this movie was able to build right from the beginning. Hopefully, after reading this review, you’ll be compelled to spend a night with your collar in front of your face and watch this movie. Enjoy!

Check out the trailer below before reading the review, just to give yourself a little context (or if you’ve already seen it, a little reminder).

***WARNING: The following review may contain spoilers.***

Chernobyl Diaries is centred on a group of three young tourists, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley), as they meet up with Chris’s brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in Kiev, Ukraine following a backpacking trip around most of Western Europe. Despite plans to head to Moscow, Paul suggests that the group take advantage of an extreme tourist adventure trip heading to the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the secluded and deserted town of Prypiat. Though Chris expresses some reservations about the change of itinerary, he eventually gets on board with the idea and tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) drives them into the abandoned city along with two other tourists, Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) and Michael (Nathan Phillips). Uri is steadfast in his claim that the group is alone in city, but when things take a turn for the worst and their van is sabotaged, it becomes clear that they aren’t the only ones in Prypiat. With hoards of wild animals and an unknown menace facing them, the group tries to escape the city walls as they are picked off one-by-one.

Given that the movie was produced by Oren Peli, the genius behind the Paranormal Activity horror series, I expected to see a similar, handycam-reliant movie that might end up making at least one audience member bail out from nausea. However, Chernobyl Diaries was shot more from a fly-on-the-wall perspective that made you feel as though you were directly in the action. It also built upon the ‘fear of the unknown” to keep the audience on their toes and terrified throughout. You only knew as much as the characters did, and could only really see what they were seeing (which wasn’t a lot). Basically, you found yourself on the edge of your seat out of sheer curiosity! Had we been able to see more than just blurry figures in the distance or feint noises in the air, this movie may have lost any effectiveness as a horror movie. However, the writers stuck to their guns and only showed what they needed to. This helped the audience to better understand the danger the characters found themselves in (even when there was no danger at all) and completely immerse themselves in the action.

A group of young travellers explore the abandoned city of Prypiat near Chernobyl.

I have to talk about the backdrop of this movie, the city of Prypiat in the Ukraine. There have been similar stories of mutants and deranged sociopaths told throughout the history of horror movies, however, given the context of Chernobyl Diaries, none have been so real as this. Even if you thought this movie was boring, you would still be mesmerized by the haunting images of buildings that, although abandoned, were left exactly as the inhabitants had left them. There has never been a better representation of a ghost town than this! And the fact that it was real made the imagery that much more interesting. I’m very impressed that the movie gave proper tribute to the ruins before delving into the actual “horror” part of the movie, with several minutes of reel completely devoted to the characters exploring the city. In addition, having the doomed nuclear plant constantly in the background of the city made the whole situation seem utterly surreal and breathtaking.

The characters in this movie were little focused upon, however they were (mostly) exciting and captivating enough to keep the movie interesting and avoid the inescapable slow points that affect many horror movies. Of the main characters, the only interesting ones seem to be the men. Jesse McCartney as Chris and Jonathan Sadowski as Paul were extremely believable as two brothers with a consistently up-and-down relationship. Their trials and tribulations with each other served as an emotional foundation for a movie that was largely void of emotion in other places. They added a humanistic element to the carnage that would eventually rain down upon them. Dimitri Diatchenko, who plays Uri the extreme tour guide, seemed to just be playing a heightened version of what I’m sure his normal persona is like: a burly, ex-military Soviet with a passion for the crazy. He provided a level of humour to the film with his over-the-top nature, but was also successful in portraying a very quiet, passive fear typically unexpected from a character like this. Even though he wasn’t in the movie for very long, he was definitely one of the high points. As for the women in this film, there really isn’t a whole lot to say expect that they were simply there if for no other reason than gender balancing.

Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) tries to calm his brother Chris (Jesse McCartney) after getting injured by an unknown attacker.

Despite the fact that I praised Chernobyl Diaries for its use of the unknown in stirring up the audience’s fears, it was that same thing that made me upset with the movie. Nothing is ever cleared up or explained in this movie! I realize that the writers were trying to highlight a sense of mystery in the film, but, come now, we would have at least liked some explanation as to what was happening in Prypiat. I was waiting for a huge twist ending or at least a revelation by one of the characters, something that would have at least clued us into the nature of this situation, When the movie concluding without giving me so much as an inkling of what was really going on (despite some vague attempts), I felt wasted on the first 90 per cent of it. It’s too bad, because the movie was going in a great direction until that point, but I just felt like the audience deserved a better ending. Don’t be discouraged from watching the movie just because of the ending, but be warned that it really isn’t going to end the way you want or expect it to.

Chernobyl Diaries was absolutely not the best horror movie that I have ever seen. However, despite some of its more glaring shortcomings (including the obnoxious ending), it really was an exciting ride! It was exactly what you would expect from a summer movie: entertaining yet flawed. It was story that really didn’t allow for much plot or character development, so it was impressive that they got away with as much as they did. But if you ignore some of the weaknesses in the plot line or with the characters and simply watch the movie for the thrill of being scared, you won’t be disappointed. My friend and I were easily terrified as the victims made their way through the remains of Chernobyl, which is all you can really ask for in a modern day horror movie. So many movies are releases and claim to be “scary” but would hardly even scare the dust off the walls if they could. Chernobyl Diaries, on the other hand, gives audiences a good jump every few minutes, keeping them satisfied and entertained throughout.


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