Crash Analysis: CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012)

Ninety minutes for that?

 Extreme tourists wish they’d gone elsewhere

When a movie isn’t screened for critics before general release, there’s something suspicious in the air. And no, it’s not the unseen radiation from Chernobyl, Ukraine. After watching this no-nothing of a horror, it was clear the producers wanted to make a killing on opening weekend, at least, before word got out.

The hoopla before the release was simple: Oren Peli. After all, he earned his Hollywood office for his PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007) becoming such a word-of-mouth hit when it was finally distributed nationwide, and beyond, in 2009. The budget to return on investment ratio rivaled that of previous “found footage” winner THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). Granted, Peli didn’t direct CHERNOBYL DIARIES, but he did come up with the story and helped craft the screenplay with writing team Carey and Shane Van Dyke.

A group of six tourists take an illegal visit to the town of Pripyat, which once housed workers for the ill-fated Chernobyl plant. Of course, this is a big mistake – because it’s a horror movie and people get killed.

That isn’t much of an explanation, but this movie is awful on many levels and the crux of the narrative doesn’t necessarily count. The story is completely weak because *** spoiler alert *** there is no way people can be exposed to that much radiation near the plant and survive for long periods of time, let alone have enough energy to go bonkers and kill people like crazed, feral cannibals. *** spoiler over *** Once the foundation for the story is deemed ridiculous and devoid of logic, it becomes far too fantastical to take seriously. Think of Eli Roth’s ludicrous HOSTEL series and you’ll get the idea. Additionally, though the daytime cinematography is fine, in the evening, the scenes are so dark it is extremely difficult to follow the action. However, I do not blame the great Morten Søborg for this, especially since his work in VALHALLA RISING (2009), as well as other features, is striking and brilliant. The editor, Stan Salfas, probably at the behest of Peli as well as other producers, played with lighting in post-production, which was a major error. It’s fine to provide a hint of what’s stalking after the characters, but to hide them completely from beginning to end is simply awful – at some point, we must see the beast(s).

Most important, the movie provided no scares. Not one. Does this mean we’re getting used to what horror has been delivering the past few years? I guess so. One could see a jolt coming at every turn, whether telegraphed or not. We’re simply getting used to the scares, and Hollywood, as well as independent filmmakers, had better come up with more creative ways to rock our world. I got more of a jump from watching Spielberg’s POLTERGEIST (1982) – and we knew that damn puppet was going to spring to life.

The big losers in this film are the actors. Granted, not everyone is perfect, but they all worked hard. The two standouts are Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Zoe) from COLD PREY (Norway, 2006) and Nathan Phillips of Australia’s WOLF CREEK (2005) fame. Both delivered quality performances, followed by the rest of the multi-national cast.

The story is weak and surprises are sorely lacking. There is nothing new or intelligent here, and the cool idea of a horror at Chernobyl is wasted (though the film was shot on locations in Serbia and Hungary).

The one star goes to the actors, as well as Aleksandar Denic and Matthew Sullivan for production design – and for Marilyn Manson’s “No Reflection” at the credits. Otherwise, you’re better off going back to the old THE HILLS HAVE EYES series than wasting money on such a low brow and disappointing feature.

1 out of 5 stars

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