Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Have You Heard of Extreme Tourism?

My decision to watch today’s movie started when it was in theaters. The producer and writer of this movie has made a few things I enjoyed in the past, and this movie seemed to be a similar style in a more interesting setting. All that being said, I didn’t find myself interested enough to commit to seeing it in the theaters. But I knew I still wanted to see it eventually. It finally hit the shelves of my local electronics store, and seeing it every time I went there nagged at me until I finally needed to see it, especially if I could fit it into my October Horrorthon. So here it is, Chernobyl Diaries, written by Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, directed by Bradley Parker, and starring Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Jesse McCartney, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, and Nathan Phillips.

A group of young people – Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) – are travelling across Europe on a vacation. They reach Kiev, Ukraine and stop in to visit Chris’s brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski). Wanting to make their vacation extra special, Paul sets the group up on a tour of the restricted Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. They get together with their guide, Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko), as well as two other tourists, Norwegian Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) and Australian Michael (Nathan Phillips), and head out to Chernobyl. After taking a detour around a security checkpoint, they get out of their van to explore some abandoned apartment buildings. They see some mutated fish, almost get mauled by a bear, and generally have a swell time. When they return to the van, they find that the wires have been chewed in the car and it will no longer start. Yuri tries in vain to radio for help, so they decide they will set out the next morning. In the night, they hear noises and Yuri goes to investigate with Chris, but only Chris returns. They are not alone in Chernobyl.

Chernobyl Diaries was a fine movie. There were some parts of it that I liked and found very effective and other parts that I found disappointing, but I’d say that I was overall satisfied with the movie. It’s certainly not an uncommon tale to see some people go someplace they shouldn’t, get stuck there, and die because of it, but I would say that it was made more interesting to me by the fact that they were in Chernobyl; a place I know next to nothing about, but find interesting nonetheless. I mean, there was a place in the movie that I had been before … in a game. I remember distinctly trying to hold out against enemy forces as I was waiting for EVAC around a Ferris wheel in Chernobyl in one of the Modern Warfare games, and there was a place they went in the movie that brought that memory back to the surface. On the other hand, I’m sure the greater majority of people can’t relate to being chased by mutated animals through Chernobyl, so we’re probably not relating to the characters that much. Either way, it works out fairly well through most of the movie. I liked a lot of the dialogue in the early goings of the movie. It was somewhat clever and funny at times without seeming rehearsed. Once the danger starts, they become much less clever. First, they start getting all angry about Yuri having a gun with him. What the hell?! You guys saw a live bear about 5 minutes ago and you think this guy should go around unarmed? Plus, he’s not just some random nut. They made a point to make sure we knew that he was in the Special Forces for a time. I’ll trust him with a firearm. The ending of the movie was the most disappointing thing to me. It wasn’t just the fact that it wasn’t a happy ending; it was also that it seemed to completely lose focus on the enemy that we were used to and threw a new enemy into it. What about a satisfying conclusion to the mutant problem they had through the entire movie, instead of just making your ending a really quick government cover up thing? The look of the movie mostly worked fine. I thought it was going to be another handheld camera, found footage thing, but that’s not really what they went for. It was filmed as if it was handheld, but they weren’t trying to make us think they were filming it themselves. The only problem I had with the look is that they had action happen through the foggy windows of the van a few times. I understand they didn’t want us to see the mutants at first to build suspense, but what I’m seeing while I’m watching it is that they’re making me stare at blurry images with muzzle fire happening on the other side. Also, would it have killed you to translate the things being said in Russian? I don’t want to have to spend a couple hundred dollars on Rosetta Stone so that I can understand part of the dialogue in your movie.

I took no issues with the performances in the movie, but I had a few with the characters. Most of the men in this movie were not great examples of masculinity. I doubt that I would risk my life to save someone either, but I would certainly feel shitty leaving one of the girls alone in the room with a mutant as the other dude and I ran through a door like bitches. Also, they are not great with firearms. I understand that these people weren’t supposed to have military training, but neither do I and I know better than to unload extremely rare bullets from my gun into the darkness at an enemy I can’t see. Wait till you have a target, asshole! The only character I had specific problems with was Jesse McCartney’s character, Chris. He turned into a dick to his brother at the very first sign of danger, basically letting his whole life of pent up aggression at his brother out right before he could possibly die and never have the chance to take that shit back, leaving his brother to deal with it for the rest of his life (assuming he has much more of a life ahead of him). Yes, it was Paul’s idea to go on the trip, but he did it to make your vacation better. How about blaming the tour guide who got them stuck there? Or everyone else for wanting to go on the tour as well? Or yourself for deciding to go out and investigate the mysterious noise when you were otherwise comfortable in your van?

I liked a good enough portion of Chernobyl Diaries to feel like I didn’t waste my time watching it. It was interesting and achieved enough creepiness and startles, and actually had some funny and clever dialogue in the beginning, but the movie starts to unspool in the middle, and the ending was not good. Otherwise it was a fine enough watch. I would say this movie isn’t really worth going out of your way to find, but if you come across it, it’s worth a watch. Chernobyl Diaries gets “It’s a hazard to have you as my brother!” out of “Tell me if you see something moving in the water.”

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