Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
By: Fin H. on December 23, 2012 | Comments
Roadshow | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 84 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Bradley Parker
Starring: Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney, Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips, Ingrid Bolso Berdal
Screenplay: Oren Peli, Shane Van Dyke, Carey Van Dyke
Country: USA
External Links
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Anyone who's done even remedial class Horror Science 101 should be familiar with the equation "Organisms + Radiation = Increased Size and/or Ferocity." I'm not sure why that's the case, when in reality it results in hair loss, haemorrhaging and generally making you late for dinner. No matter – I don't make the rules (and the ending of Raymond Briggs' When the Wind Blows would've been undeniably awesome if the elderly English couple in that had sprouted a couple of storeys, turned into slavering radioactive beasts and gone on a rampage across the home counties). With this in mind, I don't believe any kittens are going to escape their sacks if I reveal that this is what we're in for with Chernobyl Diaries.

Chernobyl Diaries is brought to you by Oren Peli, the fella behind the polarising Paranormal Activity series, but he is on much more traditional ground here and brings you the standard crew of well-scrubbed, middle class American teens, all full of joie de vivre and red, glistening entrails that are just itching to see the outside world. At first this just consists of just two implausibly attractive females, Amanda and Natalie, and Natalie's reserved, preppy boyfriend, Chris. After being introduced to them by way of what looks like a Contiki home movie, we meet Chris's dickhead brother, Paul, played by Jonathan Sadowski (2009's Friday the 13th). Paul is the type of overbearing, overconfident smug alpha male that we have to endure because he's the plot catalyst required to turn a bland, survivable holiday into the kind of thing people like ourselves would want to watch at home. Mission accepted, he persuades the two hotties and his nebbish brother to go on a sightseeing trip to Pripyat, the residential hub closest to, and abandoned in the wake of, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

It's extremely difficult to evade the bad-taste issue created by centring your CHUD film around a real-life disaster but we'll push through that in our quest for thrills n' chills (I'd be interested to see the American reaction, though, if a Ukrainian filmmaker set their movie in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and created a tale of aquatic terror, with the cast menaced by flesh-eating amphibious mermen). Joining the group are amiable backpacker Michael (played by Wolf Creek's Nathan Phillips, our go-to guy when we need a genial Aussie to drop in the movie meat grinder) and his Norwegian girlfriend, Zoe. The tour is a charmingly shonky, DIY affair conducted by an exuberant former Spetsnaz soldier named Uri (played by Dimitri Diatchenko, who steals the show in terms of both sheer charisma and dramatic acting).

It may be a sort of back-handed compliment but the sets and locations are actually the best things Chernobyl Diaries has going for it. Unable to film in the real irradiated city of Pripyat (presumably in case the crew degenerated into a shambling mob of cannibals), the makers make excellent use of an abandoned Soviet air force base and a former underground Nazi headquarters beneath Belgrade. The scenes where the gang make their initial expedition into the city and a genuinely unsettling atmosphere is established are actually the film's highlights. Some effective tension and scares follow as things go predictably arse-shaped for our pretty young things, but by the end of the movie we're adhering unwaveringly to the standard "barely glimpsed figures chase people down dark tunnels" formula and it soon outstays its welcome.

Despite the previously mentioned entrails, Chernobyl Diaries shows remarkable restraint as far as gore goes, relying mainly on jumps and tension to do its thing. Mercifully, the majority of the cast come across as relatively sympathetic decent-person-in-a-terrible-situation types and it's easy to sympathise with their plight (Paul being the notable exception, who makes the whopping transition from cocky, reckless douchebag to remorseful, blubbering douchebag with zero change in the likeability stakes).

After what will seem to the more jaded horror fan an unreasonably long period of hiding, running, screaming, hiding and then running some more, we are treated to the kind of dark, pessimistic "twist" ending that John Carpenter used to be able to fart out in his sleep and it's all over bar the obligatory distorted guitar which signals the opening credits of every horror made within the last decade or so. Seriously, what is it with every modern horror film with a youthful cast closing on a vaguely industrial-sounding metal tune these days? If it's to reinforce the "edginess" of what preceded it they should probably use slightly less pedestrian, mainstream riffage.
Half the film takes place at night in a locale that makes the inside of a communist tractor factory look like Disneyland, but for what it's worth those greys and ochres are quite distinct and crisp and Roadshow's 1.78:1 transfer can't be faulted.
Hope you like Dolby Digital 5.1 'cause that's what you're getting. Not that there's anything wrong with it: the film relies heavily on periods of near-silence punctuated with indistinct, creepy background noises and these come across just fine.
Extra Features
Bugger all, which is a shame as there's potential for a bit of material discussing the origins of the concept (apparently, Oren Peli was inspired by a photo blog posted by a girl riding through the real Pripyat on a motorcycle).
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
It's a touch disappointing that everything regresses into predictable mediocrity near the end, as Chernobyl Diaries takes a novel environs (which could be viewed as the perfect setting for a horror film) and quickly establishes a menacing sense of foreboding and dread. Unfortunately it then plunges headfirst into the same old familiar dark places and populates them with profoundly unremarkable boogeymen. It's fairly engaging at first, but we soon find ourselves going through the motions.

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