Movie Review: Chernobyl Diaries (2012, Dir. Bradley Parker)

Chernobyl Diaries is a terrible bore. There’s really nothing more I need to say about it. But I’ll give it a go anyhow and rant a bit.

The film is about a group of four young boring white people in Ukraine. They are traveling, partying, and being uninteresting, when one of them says he has met a tour guide offering a day of “extreme tourism” to the abandoned city of Prypiat, located next door to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor that catastrophically exploded in the 80s, contaminating the surrounding area with radiation. They passively agree to go with the guide and a couple other tourists. The van breaks down, blah blah blah, something scary lives in the city, whatever. It’s directed by first time director, long time special effects guy Bradley Parker, and produced by Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity fame. Oren’s name is all over all the advertising too, so I’m sure you already knew that.

Tourism in eastern Europe seems to be really scary to Americans since Hostel happened. But, then again, I personally wouldn’t have opted to take a tour into the irradiated locale of the Chernobyl disaster, and I don’t believe any of the characters in this film would have either, if they had been real people and not pretty empty 2D husks that did little more than nod, make shrill word sounds, and frown/smile.

The build-up of this film is very long, very tedious, and manages to provide exactly no suspense. There are so many wasted opportunities to build atmosphere, or for a character’s dialogue to tell a story and portray a threat. It’s just mind boggling how bland the film is. To choose what has the potential to be a phenomenal backdrop and just gloss over it is a crime against the genre. But, hey, at least there is a scene where a CGI grizzly bear runs through a building.

It takes like an eternity for anything alarming to happen. And when it does, you’ve checked out so severely it’s not even entertaining. I’ve always at least been able to garner some entertainment from loud, abrupt pop-up scared in current studio horror, especially in shitty Asian remakes. I may not be able to get invested in the story, or the characters, enjoy the dialogue, or much else, but I still, deep down, love the adrenaline jolt and the visuals. Chernobyl Diaries doesn’t even have any of that. You see just about every shock coming as if you are watching a train approaching over miles of flat, treeless plains. You never get a look at any of the monsters either. I just filled in the blanks with happy memories of the mutants from The Hills Have Eyes.

Sometimes when I’m watching a horror film like this I get a weird sensation that if it was made in the 70s or 80s, I may have enjoyed it. The horror films being churned out for audiences then weren’t any better made, no scarier, and I’m not going to pretend they were any less boring. But I feel like the difference is in charm. I have an almost condescending love for the clumsy filmmaking that created some of the best horror of several decades ago, the movies weren’t bad because they were bad, they were bad because they were sloppy as a result of inexperience, and it was charming. There isn’t really room for that sloppiness nowadays, I can’t imagine a studio risking even the minor budgets they provide their horror output on someone who may or may not be an inept filmmaker. They’d rather give it to a special effects guy, because they know what he can make a movie look like and they don’t care about whether or not he’s capable of telling an interesting story.

Is Oren Peli inept? I’d say absolutely after watching Paranormal Activity, but a studio would give a resounding “hell no” as a result of that same film. Because it made bank. But now he’s producing more of the same, and if it’s not the same, the studio is obligated to make it look the same, which is why I’m pretty sure everyone was under the impression that Chernobyl Diaries was of the found footage horror genre, a la Para-BORE-mal Activity (BOOM, PUN’D). I’m sorry Oren. You haven’t done a thing that’s impressed me aside from actually having a career.

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