Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries (2012) Needed More Radioactivity

Because of my fascination with abandoned places - thanks to an excursion I once made to an abandoned mental health facility in Detroit during the 80's - I have had a particular interest in the former Soviet working city, Pripyat.  Where did those who lived in Pripyat work?  Why, Chernobyl, of course.  Yeah, that Chernobyl.  I look at pictures of the empty streets, desolate buildings, and overgrown parks, and I feel my creative side bubbling:  what ghosts linger there?  Who or what calls it home now?

The 2012 American horror film Chernobyl Diaries attempts to answer that for us.  Directed by Bradley Parker and written by Carey Van Dyke and Oren Peli (one of the creators of the Paranormal Activity franchise), it tells what could have been a great "what if" story.  For me, though, it fell a little short - it provided some decent quick thrills and really great atmosphere, but in the end, I just didn't feel it.  I love the abandoned city setting but couldn't latch onto anything the movie offered.

The premise is good and simple:  Chris (former pop star Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) meet up with Chris' wilder and more affluent brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in the Ukraine before heading to Moscow, where Chris wants to propose to Natalie.  Paul talks the gang into taking a day tour to the ghost city of Pripyat, and they are joined by former Spetnaz tour guide Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and another couple, Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) and Michael (Nathan Phillips).  The day goes well until they return to the van, which has been rendered inoperable.  Night falls, and since the woods are filled with hungry wolves, dogs, and bears, the group stays in the van until strange noises sound in the night.  Things go from bad to really bad when Yuri and Chris head out to investigate, and only Chris comes back sporting a spanking new bleeding leg.  Oh, and Yuri's gone.  The group is determined to leave, but is met with severe disappointment at every turn.  And by "disappointment," I mean a pack of wild dogs, no radios, nightfall, and something worse on two legs.  The next night brings the group up against something that has been stalking them from the get-go and things go from really bad to "why did we agree to do this damn tour?"

Like I said, I loved the setting.  It was, to me, the best part of the film.  Pripyat is eerie and quiet, historically tragic and intensely interesting.  The idea of something lurking in the dark among all those empty buildings is very appealing to me.  However, I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters, even with the odds they were up against.  Paul, tortured over what he feels is his responsibility, came pretty close as he aches over what his brother is going through.  I really liked Yuri, too.  You get a sense he's pretty bad-ass, and isn't the stereotypical "gonna take advantage of these silly Americans" sort of Eastern European character.  He genuinely just wants to show them a good time.

In Chernobyl Diaries, sadly nothing really popped or crackled for me, and while it had a few chills and spills, it didn't really do much for me although it was a decent shot at the "from bad to worse" theme.  Not a bad film, but it could've been much, much more.

So, dear readers, if you get the chance to explore Pripyat - which apparently one can do with the right connections and the understanding of a short visit to the irradiated ex-city - make sure the van you're in works and that in case it doesn't, you bring some doggies treats for distraction.

Check out the trailer: