By Gabrielle Morken (Québec)
A 2012 horror movie based on the events of Chernobyl and its disaster, which took place in 1986. The movie was criticized for basing itself on a well known tragedy, of which many still suffer from today. It has also harvested a lot of negativity, overall. As a horror fan, I was able to appreciate it, but it misses quite a few things by a mile. Which is unfortunate, because it does have a few things going for it.
A group of tourists decide to go on an “extreme guided tour” of Pripyat, the town which once was home to the workers of Chernobyl and their families. Their tour guide, taking a few extra turns after being denied access to the abandoned town by the military, soon leads them into a Hell on Earth.
Well, it’s a typical horror formula, and doesn’t go much farther than that. That’s okay, I wasn’t expecting much beyond this, and was looking forward to it. While the movie isn’t bad, it falls to cookie cutter material and clichés without delivering anything beyond.
Most contemporary horror movies take the basics and establish them as nothing but mere killing grounds, however in Chernobyl Diaries it would appear that they didn’t really know where they were going with this. Yes, death is aplenty as are chase scenes, but THOSE almost feel like filler which seemed to promise something a little more exceptional. As such, we’re left with elongated character progression that stagnates in itself, and never reaches any kind of definite grounding that would make the characters significant with their roles, besides dying. Two brothers with a strained but loving relationship, a random couple that just kind of barges in, a lone wolf tour guide out to make a bit of extra dough. Everything you need is there, but they forgot the flair and the ambition. These are all pretty boring characters to start off with, and none of them seem to stand out much beyond the obligatory death fodder.
Mind ye not, I have no problem with that, if any of it went somewhere. Although it wouldn’t be much of a problem if it didn’t, if their demises and their tormentors were impressive, and none of which are.
The killers are barely seen, and aside from, I think, one sentence from some military guy posing as a doctor or whatever, all we know is that they’re survivors of the sad incident. A few starving dogs, horribly malformed stalkers and some kind of last minute cover up operation make up the gist of the movie’s premise and wrap up. I really wish more would have been explained, or that the deaths and murders would have been cool…and at the risk of sounding sick, at least, that these things would have meant something. This movie eternally sucks itself off in the slasher blueprint and never climaxes, which is really unforgivable, when you think that stuff like Motor Home Massacre exists, and is actually entertaining.
Well, I may be exaggerating, and perhaps grossly misinformed, as the team behind the movie was quite passionate on their work, and knew what they wanted to get done. It shows in certain elements, which is what barely saves this movie.
The movie is gorgeous to look at. It has morbid and disturbing decor which conjures dread and unease. This, in turn, adds a lot of points for realism. Just looking at the wasted buildings and trees growing in streets, I was quite amazed. It makes you forget how ridiculous it is when a bear comes crashing through a third floor hallway, or the many clichés which include a figure looking right at you from a window, which is, of course, only noticed after the picture is taken and inspected. Actually, I love that kind of stuff, although the imagery and decor is so good and realistic that such incidents, which never actually happen whenever I visit something abandoned, seemed laughable and out of place within the feel I think that this was going for.
The movie also does some justice to suspense and fear factor. Dark, withered hallways, debris and corny remnants of life, and a particularly intense scene where one of the characters slowly but surely makes her way to temporary freedom after closely witnessing some unmentionable atrocity. The chase scenes and exploration is what I enjoyed the most. It was pretty and invoked feelings of fear and malaise.
The problem is that it went absolutely nowhere, and I would have thought that, at least, the climax within the power plant could have been a little more epic. Everything in this movie, in its attempt to tell a story trips over itself and just starts over again, and it all just drags on and on and on… It may have been saved by better special effects, cooler deaths and more emphasis on the dwellers of Prypiat. I understand that, perhaps the film was going for a more realistic allure by veiling much of which I had wanted to see, but it fails completely by trying to be different, yet borrowing elements that horror fans have been familiar with for years. The least they could have done would have been to pay proper respect to the cheesy slasher formula. The movie is redundant and boring, and this review is getting to be pretty much the same at this point. Nice imagery, good suspense…but it all feels like when a sneeze is about to happen, and then just whimpers away and dies.
Could have been decent…but it has a hell of a lot of missed potential. A little too much. They could at least have included more nuclear bears or a perilous climb up the chimney or something, for as trite and basic as this was. Watch it for the cool imagery and some good suspense here and there…but you may be disappointed by a lot of everything else.