Abandoned towns, amusement parks, and other manmade structures have an eerie quality to them, and using these structures to create a horror flick was a smart move for first-time director Bradley Parker and writer Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity). Setting a good chunk of the film in the wooded former town of Prypiat starts the terrifying portion of the film on the right foot. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.
Chernobyl Diaries follows a group of twenty-somethings traveling across Europe. Chris (Jesse McCartney), Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and Amanda (Devin Kelley) eventually stop in Kiev, where they join Chris’ brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski). Paul hooks everyone up with a trip to the site of the 1986 Chernobyl Accident, enlisting the help of Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) to get there and joining a couple of backpacking trekkers (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Nathan Phillips) in the process. The group of seven enters the site, together, and nearly immediately some foreboding things begin to happen.
Despite a dog’s carcass and some other small fright moments, it takes a while to get to the real scares in Chernobyl Diaries. The filmmakers shot in a killer location, and they certainly seem to have wanted to make the most of it, highlighting trees growing in buildings and carnivals and apartment spaces falling into decay. It’s pretty cool, like an Internet photo journal of an abandoned space, but all of the slow-going exploring takes away from the horror, and without at least some true character development or catchy dialogue, the only point seems to be to note how cool abandoned sites are.
Once the creepy crawlies begin, the pace of the film becomes more frantic, and that’s when the real fun should have picked up. With seven cast members stranded in Prypriat, and some sort of fucked up thing in the woods out to get the characters, there should have been plenty of time devoted to the mystery and the horror. While the go-go pace could have been used earlier in the movie, in the latter half, it ruins any sort of suspense that could have been built up.
In order to implement all of the film’s creepy crawly potential, Chernobyl Diaries asks audiences to suspend a lot of disbelief. A quick check of the facts proves tours are sanctioned by the government and occur at regular intervals, and Prypriat is far less of a lonely area than it would seem. Also, I get the feeling there’s probably cell-phone use in the populated area, but I’ll go ahead and give filmmakers that little bit of creative license. Without suspending the facts, Chernobyl Diaries would not have been possible, and in a better movie these misses would be easier to swallow, but here, they are just a reminder that the film is far from perfect.
Chernobyl Diaries doesn’t really work, but again, the disaster site was a great area for the horror genre to explore. It’s a shame, because Parker paid all the attention that he could to the setting, but failed to extrapolate the same sort of detail-oriented logic to the rest of the endeavor, and it doesn’t stop showing until the credits roll.
I’m all for previews before the film, but this set really does not start off on the right foot. Before any previews, there’s a long advertisement for Blu-ray 3D picture, where the voiceover gets pretty ridiculous, stating, “Getting your home entertainment system ready for 3D is easy. Start watching in stunning 3D.“ Well, yeah, but before that you have to purchase the right sort of TV and the right sort of Blu-ray player, and 3D glasses. I hardly think the type of people to invest in a crappy horror flick are the same type of people that are buying 3D Blu-ray sets at this juncture.
The disc as a whole isn’t particularly compelling either, although it’s notoriously difficult to create a good set of extra features for a horror film. One way the creators could have done a better set would be to have included a makeup featurette. People love the bloody and gory moments and meeting the people who create these and learning some tricks of the trade would have been an easy peasy way to flesh the set out a little more.
You know there hasn’t been a lot of effort put in when there is a stationary menu page, and the extras on the disc don’t get all that much better. The two main extras on the disc are a few “short features.” One is an infomercial that seemed to be shot to specifically as a special feature. The second is a fake viral video that talks about a “conspiracy” at the accident site.
A few deleted scenes follow, including a rooftop party scene (which is completely worthless) and an extremely confusing alternate ending. The alternate ending is another great way to make up ground, but the one present with this set is odd and was much better edited in the final version of the film. All in all, the extras were a bit of a drag. Usually, there’s at least one redeeming moment, but I didn’t find one, here.