RogerBW's Blog

Chernobyl Diaries 27 June 2015

2012 horror, dir. Brad Parker, Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski: IMDb / allmovie

A tourist trip into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone goes horribly wrong.

The tourist trip is the tough part, really: we're expected to sympathise with these young Americans on their European tour, merely because one of them's going to propose to his girlfriend. Got news for you, kid, that doesn't make you special or even particularly interesting. This isn't exactly a found-footage film (there are plenty of sequences where nobody would be in a position to take the pictures that are shown), but it still relies heavily on hand-held cameras, which means it brings the usual found-footage risk of nausea. Get a dolly track!

But apart from these problems, the first half-hour or so is good solid menace-building stuff, as our protagonists investigate the abandoned buildings of Pripyat. Much of this segment was filmed on location at an old Soviet airbase in Hungary, and the sense of eerie abandonment is very effective.

Unfortunately the film is 85 minutes long. And like The Last Days on Mars that I saw last year, all the interesting stuff goes out of the window once the film remembers it's meant to be about monsters. All right, it's not a solid wall of jump-scares, but once we know that the answer to everything is "mutants", the progress is inevitable and predictable, and all that's left is to watch people we don't care about, being picked off in a variety of horrid ways. If you've never seen a horror film before, I suppose some of this will be new to you. To give the film its due, it does try to suggest rather than show the grisly deaths, and some of the effects are quite well done.

The twist at the end is predictable: just think "what would make for a shocking twist ending", and sure enough, that's what happens. That it manages to throw the blame for everything that's gone wrong not on the tourists who deliberately bypassed soldiers and barriers meant to keep them out, but on Those Nasty Rooskies, is just the garbage icing on a garbage cake.

Still, great atmosphere in the opening act.

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See also:
The Last Days on Mars

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