The Chernobyl Diaries (Rated R) 4 STARS
While not filmed entirely in shaky cam, The Chernobyl Diaries (86 minutes) still owes a fair bit to films such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, no surprise considering its pedigree. Oren Peli produced, and he is the guy who started the resurgence of the low-budget shaky cam film with Paranormal Activity, for which I both love and loathe him. On the one hand, that film was both original and scary. On the other hand, shaky cam, much like 3D is utterly migraine inducing. The concept behind the Chernobyl Diaries is pretty good, but repeated viewings are not worth the headache.
In what is obviously a new trend, some American tourists go to Russia and their trip gets messed up (see The Darkest Hour). Chris (a Beiber-esque Jesse McCartney) and his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley) travel around Europe with apparently limitless funds. The film begins with the two taking Natalie’s friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) to visit Chris’s brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in Russia. While it is never explained how Paul and Chris manage their amazing lifestyle in today’s tough economic times, I like to think that one or both of them was brain damaged at some point and are now living off the funds of their successful lawsuit because I would hate to think that the youth of America is this needlessly stupid without some sort of traumatic brain injury.
Paul comes up with the brilliant idea of visiting the remains of the factory town Prypiat that was evacuated following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Speaking as a child of the 80s, (a) Chernobyl was scary and (b) I feel really old knowing that Chernobyl was scary since the filmmakers apparently decided their nice youthful audience would need that explained. Naturally, they all disregard the complete idiocy of treating a fully irradiated town as a vacation spot and agree that traveling two hours into the middle of nowhere in a van with a shady Russian ex-milita type (Dimitri Diatchenko) is a fabulous way to spend the day. And when said ex-militia type is turned back at a checkpoint they think it is an even better idea to sneak in the back way, despite the lovely Kalashnikovs carried by the checkpoint guards.
You know what? If these were all real people we could definitely start handing out Darwin Awards at this point in the film. The group, which includes a couple of vaguely European backpackers (Ingrid Bolso Berdal and Nathan Phillips), finally makes it into the abandoned town where they sing and dance on the grave of this once thriving area. As you do when walking through the lost hopes and dreams of a few thousand people, they take lots of pictures.
The tourists finally get ready to leave, only to find out that important engine parts are not working. They spend quite a bit of time arguing about whose fault that is, then start hearing things. Uri, in a brilliant bit of strategy, grabs a gun and heads out into the dark in search of the source of the ruckus despite knowing that wild animals frequent the town by night. Chris decides to tag along and make a lot of noise. When that plan does not work out in his favor, most of the group decides to hike out and bring back help. They even promise to be right back!
The main cast is slowly whittled down, a process made faster by the number of times they decide to go looking for people who disappear as well as their habit of screaming the names of the missing people loudly and repeatedly. But who is behind the mysterious goings on? While some questions are eventually answered, nothing is too well explained. That is not necessarily a bad thing, since you don’t want to mess up a perfectly good horror movie by weighing it down with lengthy exposition. Overall, this is definitely worth a look-and-see, provided you have plenty of Tylenol.
Now showing at Wynnsong 7, Carmike 12 and Carmike Market Fair 15.