Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Title: Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Director: Bradley Parker

Cast: Jonathan Sadowski, Nathan Phillips, Jesse McCartney, Devin Kelley, Olivia Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko, Ingrid Bolso Berdal


Chernobyl Diaries comes to us from producer Oren Peli, the guy who burst into the cinematic scene with Paranormal Activity (2007), one of the most profitable independent films ever. It stands proudly next to similarly produced films like Halloween (1978) and The Blair Witch Project (1999), you know, films made with very little money, but that made huge amounts of cash at the box office. It seems to me that Oren Peli is now Hollywood’s go to guy for producing films of this nature, and of course Hollywood is loving every second of it. It means they don’t have to spend obscene amounts of money producing a film and they still fill up their bank accounts. Case in point, Chernobyl Diaries, the latest of these ‘cheaply’ produced films only cost 1 million dollars to make, that's pocket change when it comes to hollywood, but hear this, the film has already gone on to make more than 18 million dollars at the box office! Talk about a win-win situation! But production stories aside, was the film worth a damn?

Say "Nuclear Fall Out!"

Story is all about these American tourists who in search of kicks during their visit to Ukraine, agree to go on an ‘extreme tour’ which means they’ll pay an ex-military dude to take them deep into the city of Pripyat, the city where the families who worked at the Chernobyl Power plant used to live in.  After the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant disaster; the whole city became one big deserted place. The families who lived there were all forced to abandon the city in less then 24 hours! The buildings they used to live in stand their, like giant silent witnesses to these horrible events that occurred some 25 years ago. Still, the four Americans think going into this ghost town will be a spooky adventure. Never mind that radiation levels are still present and could potentially kill them, their logic is they will be in and out of this place before the radiation can harm them. Still, this being a horror film, well, the question inevitably arises: will they ever return?

Chernobyl Diaries attempts to be an exercise in suspense, but does it succeed? Well, the film is all about things moving in the shadows, villains we can never quite place, but know are there, people running from deadly not yet seen..things. Yup, Oren Peli is up to his old tricks again. He enjoys scaring his audience without really showing them anything. This film is similar in that way to Peli’s own Paranormal Activity, a film that can also creep you out, simply because it messes with your mind. The villains in Chernobyl Diaries are kept in a shroud of mystery; obviously Peli knows our minds will fill the blanks with something maybe even more awful. Maybe this is a way to save some money, but I guess their logic is that our imaginations will put in the special effects. Cheap, yeah, but you have to admit, it’s an effective technique that when it works, it works. Your mind does fill in the blanks with something perhaps even more sinister then what they could actually end up showing you. And though Peli didn’t personally direct this film, you could feel that Chernobyl Diaries is structured and produced in an Oren Peli sort of way. There’s lots of mystery, lots of suspense, lot's of unanswered questions. This film keeps you guessing to the very end, which of course I enjoyed.

This is director Bradley Parker’s first film, he’s worked on films before but on the visual effects department and computer animation which usually spells disaster for a film in my book. Virus (1999)  and Spawn (1997) are examples of two films directed by visual effects artists who had the opportunity to make  full length feature films. As you can see, the results are usually either empty fx spectacles or simply mediocre films. Sometimes handing a movie to an effects whiz isnt always great because they tend to focus on effects alone and forget about telling a good story.  Sometimes their films don't work,  and sometimes it's magic, like in the case of James Cameron, who started his career doing effects work on Roger Corman movies and has ended up directing some of the biggest blockbusters ever conceived. So you see, there are exceptions and I’d say that Bradley Parker is one of them. Considering his background in computer effects, I’m amazed he turned in a film whose focuse isn’t in wowing us with them. This films main attempt is to scare us and keep us in suspense and I think in that sense it worked. Visually speaking, thanks to Parker's experience with effects  work , this film looks great. In the film, Parker mixes a bit of that shaky cam technique, but at the same time, has some  good looking still shots, so I'd say he did a great balancing act there. Nothing worse than an overdose of shaky cam.  Interesting how Parker’s first film has sparked some controversy, some groups consider the film offensive because it portrays kids going on vacation to Chernobyl, where so many human lives where lost. They also criticize the films tag line “Experience The Fall Out” because they say its "making fun" of the horrors of real nuclear fall out. I say baloney, in any case, the film actually shows us what real fall out can do to you. And as for the disrespectful angle, these kids go in there, not to be disrespectful, in fact, their attitude is mournful. They stand in awe of this place. If you ask me, the ‘controversy’ behind this is stupid, but on the other hand, it should work in the films favor at the box office.

What works so well for this movie is the unique locations in which they shot the film. We get isolated abandoned buildings, old factories, a ghost city with shadows creeping in its backgrounds. The whole story behind the Chernobyl disaster makes everything all the more sinister, the idea that these kids are venturing deeper and deeper into this ghost town, that’s so close to an abandoned nuclear reactor is very eerie, the visuals are extremely atmospheric and I enjoyed that about it. My problem with the film was that somewhere around its middle part it turns into the kids running away from something they can’t see, and it turns into that kind of a movie where they never show you what it is that’s chasing these kids, which is probably a way of trying to augment the suspense. It might unnerve some, and piss off others who want to see their creatures. It worked well in my book because usually, these types of films have a good pay off in the end and in my book, Chernobyl Diaries does have a good ending. Ultimately, Chernobyl Diaries has suspenseful moments, lot’s of jump scares and an extremely eerie location and premise. It might not offer up a lot in the originality department because it simply deludes into a monster movie, but if you ask me, even though the film doesn’t break any new ground in horror, it entertained me. It’s a horror film with an interesting setting and an eerie premise, what’s not to like?

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5  


steve prefontaine said...

This one is destined for cult status, no question about it.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this review. I've been curious about this one. I do like found footage horror films and this one looked promising. It reminded me of an ep. of that SyFy Channel reality show DESTINATION TRUTH where they actually went to Chernobyl to investigate reports of hauntings. It was a very spooky ep., just to see footage of them wandering around this completely deserted city.

Franco Macabro said...

A lot of people (including myself) mistake this one for a found footage film, but it isn't. It only has one scene where they find a cell phone and look at this video in it, but thats about it, the rest of the film is shot like a normal movie, with a lot of hand held shots, which give it a documentary feel, but it aint found footage like say Blair Witch Project or Cannibal Holocaust.

I love found footage films though...last one I really enjoyed was Apollo 18, so underrated in my book!

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Chernobyl is so fascinating. I really want to visit. I think time is running out to do it while it is still in this deserted state-- because it's becoming more and more touristy.

Anonymous said...

So is chris dead he ends up getting attacked then leaves the film later leading up to him to be alive with his brother keep on saying I need to get chris. His ring later to be found but chris is nowhere to be found its sad if he's dead to not show how he died... it was a good movie but he should of had a good death in the movie.


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