Socorro movie review: Chernobyl Diaries
Directed by: Bradley Parker
Starring: Jesse McCartney, Dimitri Diatchenko, Jonathan Sadowski
Showing nightly at the Loma
Though not the director, writer/producer Oren Peli's (Paranormal Activity) creative vision is the obvious driver behind this film. I mention this only because Chernobyl Diaries feels a lot like Paranormal Activity: filming unreal events in a psuedo-documentary style, as a way to give the film tension and immediacy. Paranormal Activity borrowed heavily from the technique of "found footage" used to great effect in The Blair Witch Project, and though Chernobyl Diaries has a few brief "self-filmed" segments, it uses a lot of hand-held camera work to give it a very documentary-like feel to it. I only say this as fans of Paranormal Activity will find a lot to like in this film.
Being Bradley Parker's first directorial effort, I can't fault him too much for this movie, and judging by his experience as visual effects supervisor and second unit director, I suspect Peli kept him on a short leash. I find this unfortunate, as Parker is not given enough artistic license to convey his own vision on this film, and we are left with a distinct product of Oren Peli's creative mind.
Without revealing too much about the story, this follows a rag-tag group of primarily American tourists taken on an "extreme tour" of Prypiat, the radioactive town vacated as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, and as expected, violence ensues. This film follows rote horror territory: have a group of good looking young people make some very poor decisions, strand them in some creepy place, have them split up (losing meager resources: flashlights, pistol, etc.), and they slowly begin to meet dramatically unpleasant deaths. You should enter into this understanding that you will probably not connect with the characters on any level. That leaves it up to the setting and events to keep this film interesting. This leads to a disparity between those who find the setting compelling, and the target audience.
Most of us over the age of 35 will probably remember the Chernobyl disaster. Symbolically, it represented everything wrong with Communism, in a world near the end of the Cold War. Practically, it showed the danger of living in the nuclear age, a reminder that a nuclear accident could change things in the wink of an eye. The lasting radiation was embodied with freakish images of disfigured animals and children afflicted with rare forms of cancer. Yet, this film is clearly intended for the younger set: folks who weren't born when the Chernobyl incident occurred. The story had the chance of engaging the target audience by crafting a haunted, cursed place, resonating on a visceral level. For this, it falls flat. It is a creepy setting, interesting in only its dilapidation and Communist era aesthetic, but it doesn't carry the film far enough. The result is that the setting is squandered. The events in the film are largely formulaic, building up from mere hints of trouble, into an intense free-for-all by the end. It does a good job of building up the tension, but I didn't find Prypiat's inhabitants as disturbing as I would have liked.
Though the characters are largely forgettable, I found Diatchenko's performance as Uri, the former special forces soldier turned tour guide, the most memorable. Also worth noting is heartthrob crooner turned actor, Jesse McCartney, makes an appearance as one of the primary characters, following years of professional obscurity.
I can only recommend this film to those who loved Paranormal Activity, and are pining for more from the mind of Oren Peli. Considering the pickings for horror are thin this summer, horror fans will find a little to like in this movie. Outside of those folks, I say steer clear of this film. It has some date potential for thrill seekers, as the build of tension and the occasional jump-out-of-your seat moments give a good excuse to get close to your partner. Otherwise, this film serves up a totally forgettable experience.