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Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries

Please do not feed the mutants with your fellow travellers

dir: Bradley Parker

What a waste.

It’s one thing to make a flick set around Chernobyl, yes, THAT Chernobyl, being the site of the worst nuclear accident (publicly known) to occur thus far. Let’s just ignore the one that happened at Fukushima just recently, I guess, at least until the Japanese start making monster movies about it.

It’s another thing entirely to film such a film in the actual location you’re setting it in. I mean, that just blows my mind. That’s a great idea. Even allowing for the greatness of the idea, I can see that, necessarily, there are only two kinds of films you could set at such a location: documentary or horror movie. Comedy, well, not even Adam Sandler or Roberto Benigni would be able to get away with it. Romance, hm? Love in the Time of Lethal Radiation?

I am somewhat obsessed with the place. Perversely, the best realisation of something set there thus far have been the Ukrainian-produced S.T.A.L.K.E.R games, which used the location very effectively, but I’m not pretending it did so in a deep or meaningful way. It’s an excuse for some very creepy, very effective first person shooters where you get to blow away a whole bunch of horrifying (but poorly animated) mutants, tracksuit-wearing hoods and some very hardcore mercenaries, on your way either to death, escape, or a basket of puppies wearing cute scarves.

So I went into this thinking Chernobyl Diaries was actually filmed at Pripyat and Chernobyl, at least in some of the least irradiated areas. Turns out I am a complete idiot, because the closest they got, the filmmakers, to the Ukraine, was Serbia and Hungary. They didn’t get anywhere near the fucking place, the cads.

They didn’t have the balls or the ovaries to go there. It’s not impossible to get in to, either. Plenty of people go there every year, mutants notwithstanding. Other films and docos have been filmed there, and those filmmakers haven’t cried about it yet like little girls whose faces have dropped off.

That’s a primary fail for Chernobyl Diaries right there. What could have redeemed it from there onwards? Well, finding locations that mirror the important ones, the ones I could probably draw from memory having seen them so often; the ferris wheel, the department store, the Red Forest, the image of the Jupiter Plant, would be a good way to recover from the stumble. Well, they found somewhere in Hungary or Serbia that looks pretty damn close. The Jupiter Plant where the accident occurred is of course CGI, because that place will be off-limits for centuries to people trying to make awful movies, but the rest looked almost just like it.

The second thing they could have done to avoid abject failure is to have come up with a decent story to tie in what happened to the place with something happening right now. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear they completely failed on this score. The most interesting thing they could come up with was: bunch of Americans, one Australian (Nathan Phillips) and some Norwegian chick travel to Pripyat, and get killed one by one. It’s the same story as 99% of horror flicks, and it’s as generic as generic could be. Subsection: even such a stock plot could be redeemed if it was done well, with something vaguely interesting happening, some kind of twist, something, anything, any fucking thing.

Nup, not going to happen here. The tourists are as bland and annoying as they always are in these goddamn flicks.

Are the monsters interesting? Nup, they’re the mutated former residents of the towns around the reactor that were evacuated the day after the disaster, which means their pretty much like bubble-headed zombies except we see even less of them than usual. Do they do anything interesting, entertaining, scary or funny?

Nuh, because that would probably have cost even more money, and this ill-fated romp clearly didn’t warrant it. I’ve seen wedding videos that had bigger budgets and better action, and, hell, they were scarier too.

How else does it fail? Well, it’s called Chernobyl Diaries, and there’s neither any trip to Chernobyl, nor any Diaries for that matter. We care nothing for any of the participants, with the possible exception of the tourists ‘extreme’ tour guide Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko), who’s an ex-Spetsnatz guy built like a cross-eyed brick shithouse, who acts like it too. And he’s killed off way too soon. The other mutant fodder Americans are bland to the point of looking and acting like members of Mitt Romney’s family, and they’re only slightly more irritating.

I don't have that much of a problem with that, since people die in horror flicks. You get used to it. Accepting, in fact, that it is the way of this world.

But when they're actively irritating, well, you're not that invested in watching them get away from or triumph over that which hunts them. Instead, you actively want them to die so the film can end.

And I hungered for them to die. Almost everything about this production that occurs after the erstwhile troop of losers realise someone or something is after them, which happens after 30 minutes, is just an irritating delay until the movie can end. Before that, it's kinda fascinating watching them walk around the remnants of an irradiated ghost town, as Yuri explains what happened, and how bad it was in 1986. That's all good stuff, including his admonition to one of the crew not to try to lift some of the stuff he finds along the way, since it's still irradiated and will probably kill him.

Take that, doofus. Nathan Phillips, Australia's Own Nathan Phillips, really only has a career in flicks where people or things are trying to kill him. Some people are uniquely suited to such roles. As such, he's uniquely suited to dying here too. Oh noes, spoiler alert! I don't think it matters here. It's all filmed so amateurishly and so coyly (in the perverse hope of getting a lower rating, perhaps?), than even the bits that are meant to be scary just come across as muddled and garbled. The characters do the usual dumb stuff that gets them killed, but here the antagonists are really about as worthless as the protagonists.
[img_assist|nid=1747|title=Wouldn't it be lovely to go for a spin through the air? Wait, why did your ear just drop off?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=525]
Both do dumb things that make no sense, and overall it means neither group comes off looking particularly clever. The mutants apparently know enough about cars in one instance to disable one without ruining a van completely, giving the mutant bait somewhere to chill for a while, and only a little while later decide "Nah, fuck it, why not destroy the whole van now?", which they could have easily done at every point, unless they were collaborating with the director in order to make the tension build.

There's no tension, there's nothing. The scariest moment only occurs before the mutant monsters start doing their thing, and it involves an animal not completely transformed by the wasteland environment scaring the shit out of everyone. Everything else looked like a high school production of Thriller, only less competently done, with featureless corridor following featureless corridor.

And the ending, calculated to chill us to the bone with its harshness, does nothing more than makes us shrug.

There's a strange emphasis on making it look like a handheld "found footage" movie, which makes no sense since no-one is filming it within the context of the characters, and yet scene after incompetent scene is made to look like one of the group is filming things. It seems like a pointless quibble, but let me just tell you, that while it is a pointless quibble, it ends up making a bad situation worse. For us.

The guy behind this flick, not in the capacity as a director, is the same hack responsible for the Paranormal Activity flicks, all four of them, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The man has a talent for making nothing out of nothing, and for that he should be shunned by family and ridiculed by his peers, except for when they need a loan or something, since I'm sure he can endure the world's criticisms as he sits atop a pile of money the size of Gibraltar.

It don't matter. Avoid this movie, I beseech thee, even for free, even if they pay you, don't watch it because there's nothing for you here, man.

3 days I survived Chernobyl and all I got were these worrying, screaming lumps out of 10

“Have you heard of extreme tourism?” – yeah, it’s where the monsters that attack you are less irritating than the people you’re travelling with – Chernobyl Diaries