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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Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

The More You Pay Attention To It, The Better It Gets

I managed to get a current movie into the October Horror-thon before I ran out of time.  As you may have been able to tell from my previous review, I was skeptical going into this movie.  After I lost a bit of love for it because of the second movie, I assumed it would only get worse for the third part.  Let’s see if it did in my review of Paranormal Activity 3, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and starring Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, and briefly bringing back Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden.

We first briefly cut to scenes of Katie Featherston bringing some tapes to her pregnant sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden).  Then we cut to the scene where Kristi and her husband Dan (Brian Boland) are looking through their recently trashed house to see if anything was stolen, finding only that the box of tapes from their childhood were stolen.  Now we jump into those tapes.  We’re back in 1988 where young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) live with their mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner), and her boyfriend, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith).  They’re a normal family except for the fact that Kristi has an “imaginary” friend named Toby, though he prefers to be called Kunta Kinte.  Well that’s actually not that unusual for a kid, I hear.  The weird thing is that Dennis noticed that, ever since Toby came into the equation, strange things have been happening around the house.  Dennis, who works as a wedding photographer/video taper, decides he wants to set up a camera in the house to catch it on tape.  One night, he convinces Julie to make a very awkward sex tape, but they’re interrupted by an earthquake.  While reviewing the film later, Dennis realizes that some dust that fell from the ceiling landed on an invisible figure and stayed there until the figure disappeared in a puff of dust.  Dennis amps up the surveillance, placing three cameras around the house.  One goes in their room, one goes in the loft at the top of the stairs that they claim is a bedroom for their daughters, and the other one goes on a disassembled fan that moves the camera from side to side.  As in the other movies, these camera catch many strange events that slowly amp up in scariness until they reach a crescendo that may not mean good things for the family.

I am prepared to offer this movie the title of “Best of the Three Paranormal Activity movies”.  It obviously has a lot in common with the other movies, from the found-footage style of filming to the premise of the movie, and even the characters.  What this one does on top of that is show that the filmmakers imagination and ability in regards to cool, creepy ghost occurrences has improved drastically, and it also brings us back story that helps us understand the first two movies as well.  The part where the dust falls on the ghost figure is really well done and pretty spooky.  Later on, the kid’s babysitter tells the kids a ghost story by putting a bed sheet over herself.  Later, as she’s downstairs doing homework, the sentry fan-cam catches a glimpse of someone the kid’s height under the bed sheet in the corner, then goes back to her, then back to the corner where it’s gone, then back to her where the sheet-covered figure is standing behind the babysitter.  As the camera turns back the other way, the figure dissolves and the sheet plops to the ground.  Very well done.  It’s like a David Copperfield trick, but scary.  Shortly after an attempt to play “Bloody Mary” seemingly pisses Toby off, Katie is chasing Kristi through their room where she runs into an invisible figure and is then hoisted into the air by her hair by it.  That’s what you get!  Bloody Mary ain’t a game!  And when the family picks up and goes to Julie’s mother’s house, the tension builds on itself very drastically until bringing us to a big release at the very end that was nowhere near as disappointing to me as the endings of the other two movies.  There are plenty more creepy occurrences, to be sure, but I don’t want to ruin them for you.  Check them out, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Now, one problem I had was that continuity seemed to be up for grab in this movie in comparison to the other movies.  Having just watched all three in the same day, I’m still thinking that they did not work out all of the problems with it.  This movie does show us where the picture that debuts in the first movie was taken, and I thought that was cool, but other things didn’t match up.  One that I got wrong was that I thought throughout this movie was that I thought it was Katie who was haunted, but after watching the other two I remembered that Kristi was chronologically haunted first and then that Mexican maid bitch and her douche nozzle husband had it sent over to Katie.  But in the first movie she says that the demon has never been so violent before after she was dragged out of the room by it, apparently having forgotten the fact that she was dragged around by the demon in this movie as well as hoisted by her hair.  And if you want to argue that she forgot it because of how long ago it was then I ask you how she remembered so damned much about that picture.  There’s another big one that I’m still not sure how they make it work out, but I don’t want to ruin it so I must leave it off.

Let’s talk performances.  They give us the same quality of performances in this movie as in the other ones.  All of the characters (and even the kids) give really realistic performances and all seem like real people, which again adds to the movie’s ability to draw us in to believing this really happened.  I do have problems with the characters that is the fault of the writers though.  For instance, in the very beginning when Katie brings the tapes to the pregnant Kristi, Kristi’s husband Dan is filming his pregnant wife standing on a ladder and painting Hunter’s room.  Really, dude?  You are making a very hard run at father/husband of the year.  I did wonder how the women of this family always seem to attract men who love video editing though.  Julie, Katie, and Kristi all brought Dennis, Micah, and Dan into their nonsense and all of these guys have a major hard on for filming everything in their world.  Which brings us into the next problem: Incredulity.  Every one of these movies could’ve ended on a much happier note if not for Micah, Dan, and Julie being so incredulous when it comes to these hauntings.  Micah started believing pretty quickly into the movie, but both Dan and Julie went nearly the entire movie acting like none of these strange things were happening and, like Katie, blaming the person who was filming it.  Katie (possibly correctly) believes that Micah’s filming is just agitating the demon, Dan gets angry about Kristi and Ali believing in this stuff, and Julie flat out says that the girls are freaking out about a ghost because of Dennis.  Really, bitch?  You wanna see the video evidence I have that your daughter was just lifted in the air by her hair by a ghost?  She didn’t even see that stuff because she was busy irrationally blaming him for it.  Let this be a lesson to all of you: If your loved one tells you numerous times that you have a haunting, go ahead and have a priest come out for a second opinion or risk having your neck broken in a very laughable way.

I definitely think you guys should hit up your local theaters and check out this movie.  I had mild continuity issues (some of which are still unresolved) and I admittedly got a little bored in the middle of the movie, the end of the movie and the cool new spookiness definitely puts it ahead of both other Paranormal Activity installments.  We still have unresolved issues with this family that I hope will be tied up in at least one other movie, but I also hope they don’t run out of good ideas by then.  I’ll give this movie “Toby” out of “Kunta Kinte.”

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Paranormal Activity (2007) and Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

I Don’t Know If The House Is Haunted, But I Hope It Is.

I don’t know if I’m happy or sad to see the October Horror-thon come to a conclusion, but we’re nearly there. Today, I decided I’d go see the third of the Paranormal Activity series in theaters, but that review comes tomorrow. Today, I will slam Paranormal Activity 1 & 2 together in one review so we can be up to date with PA before I bring you the third. Paranormal Activity was written and directed by Oren Peli and stars Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, and Ashley Palmer, and Paranormal Activity 2 is directed by Tod Williams and stars mostly the same people, but adds Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, and Vivis Colombetti. Prepare yourself for spoilers.

Paranormal Activity

Katie Featherston comes home to find that her boyfriend, Micah Sloat, has purchased a brand new camera in order to attempt to capture signs of ghostly activity that Katie claims has haunted her since her youth. After playing around with his camera as any good Technophile would, they retire for the evening and leave the camera running just beyond the foot of their bed, looking down the hallway. Prepare to see a lot of this camera angle. At first, the activity is fairly uneventful, catching mostly the sound of footsteps and lights turning on and off by themselves. Then, it escalates drastically to Katie’s keys being found on the floor! So they hire a psychic named Dr. Mark Fredrichs, who decides that they are not haunted by a ghost, but by a demon. He gives them the phone number of a demonologist named Dr. Johann Averies and advises them to contact him. Katie wants to, but Micah is an idiot. He thinks he can handle this ghost problem with a Ouiji board and a punch to the mouth of that ghost if he steps out of line. The activity slowly escalates night by night. It goes to a door moving by itself, Katie hears voices that rouse her from her sleep, and finally a load roar and a thud from downstairs, prompted by Micah’s taunts. Katie begins to get super creepy by waking up and standing next to the bed staring at the sleeping Micah for hours before walking downstairs. Micah finds her sitting in a swing outside and refusing to come back inside. When he tries to get a blanket for her, she appears in the doorway and goes back to bed. The next morning, she doesn’t remember any of it. Micah goes against the wishes of the Doc and Katie and brings home a Ouiji board and tries to get Katie to use it with him before they go out for the evening. She doesn’t take it well. She storms out and he follows. Shortly after, footsteps can be heard walking downstairs, then the planchette starts to move on it’s own and then the board catches fire. Micah decides to sprinkle talcum powder in the hallway to see the footsteps and that produces 3-toed footprints from the attic into the bedroom. Investigating the attic, Micah discovers a photo of Katie that cannot possibly exist because it should have been lost in a fire from her youth. After a picture of the couple is smashed during the day, they try to call Dr. Averies. He’s not there, so they call Dr. Fredrichs again, but he says he can’t help them. That night, Katie is dragged out of bed and bitten on the back. They decide to go to a hotel, but Katie changes her mind. That night, Katie wakes, creepy-stands next to Micah, then goes downstairs and screams. Micah investigates only to get the shit killed out of him and have himself thrown into the camera by possessed Katie. Micah’s body is discovered by the police, Katie remains at large.

There’s also a couple of different endings to this. On the BluRay, you can also watch an ending that is similar, but in this ending – instead of walking in, sniffing Micah’s corpse, and attacking the camera – Katie walks in covered in blood and clutching a butcher knife, seemingly having killed Micah downstairs. Then she slits her throat. This particular ending would put quite the damper on sequels so it didn’t get used. There was also an ending I never saw where Katie kills Micah downstairs and comes upstairs with the butcher knife, sits on the bed, and rocks back and forth. The camera indicates that days begin to pass until Katie’s friend Amber comes over and discovers Micah, screams, and leaves. Later the police come to find Micah. There’s also one I saw on YouTube where the same thing happens but the police come upstairs and find Katie, she snaps out of her daze and waddles towards the police holding her knife and completely confused. Then they shoot her.

Paranormal Activity 2

We backpedal a bit to a couple of months before the events of the first movie. A different couple named Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Dan Rey (Brian Boland), return home with their newborn son, Hunter. The tape of that joyous occasion is then recorded over with a tape of the couple filming their trashed house after a supposed break in. Every room in the house has been trashed except for Hunter’s room and nothing has been stolen. Dan reacts by having security cameras installed all over the house, thankfully giving us a bit of change to the camera angles. Shortly after, something spooks the family’s beloved maid Martine (Vivis Colombetti), inspiring her to spread sage all over the house to ward off evil spirits. Dan fires her, probably saying “How dare you try to protect my family?!” Later, Kristi’s sister, Katie (yes, that Katie), comes over and Dan and Micah mock Kristi and Katie for believing in ghosts. Dan’s daughter from a previous marriage, Ali (Molly Ephraim), is also quite skeptical, until something happens to her. At home alone with Hunter, Ali’s boyfriend comes over and they decide to bust out a Ouiji. Ali asks the spirit what it wants and it first says “Pussy”. Okay, that was her douche nozzle boyfriend. But then it starts spelling out “H … U … N … T” but then the camera cuts away to Hunter’s room so I have no idea what it was trying to say. Ali doesn’t notice. Later, she naps and a shadow comes over her, waking her up. A knock at the door inspires her to go outside to investigate and she’s locked out of the house, getting her into trouble with her parents. Just as in the first movie, things begin to escalate to creepier and creepier occurrences, coming to a head when the family dog, Abby, is attacked violently off-camera. Dan and Ali take the dog to the vet, leaving Kristi at home alone. She goes to check on Hunter and has her legs swept out from under her by an invisible force and she is dragged downstairs into the basement. She stays there for several hours until she walks calmly out of the basement. The next day, Dan leaves Ali alone with Kristi and Kristi is acting weird, spazzing out whenever Ali goes near Hunter. Ali also discovers scratches and writing on the inside of the basement door. She calls her dad home to show her the surveillance footage of Kristi being dragged downstairs and Dan calls Martine. Dan is an asshole, so he decides he’s perfectly comfortable expelling the demon, even knowing that it will immediately go over to Katie. It works and all is well … until Katie returns to the house after the events of the first movie and kills the family, abducting Hunter never to be seen again.

Wow. That’s a lot of typing to get to this point, but let’s review these bitches. I like both of these movies, as should be expected from my revelation about loving ghost movies. I like so much about these movies beyond the movie themselves, and then I like the movie. For instance, I like the “found footage” idea. Obviously I’m not dense enough to believe this movie was real, just like the Blair Witch, but I do allow myself to believe it for the time while I’m watching the movie. I feel like it gets you more involved in the movie if you allow it to. But don’t be dumb enough to think it was a real movie. Another thing I like about them is that they make so much money and cost relatively little to make. And, even though they cost so little to make, they still do a lot of stuff that is fascinating and cool. Obviously they save a lot of money on casting by having a super small cast of unknowns and only needing one or two locations per movie and that could allow them to do cool stuff in the movie. Things like the demon footprints, the cabinets exploding open, and getting dragged by nothing are the kind of things that I can’t figure out how they pull off without cutting away. They hide their tricks very well and I like that. In PA2, I also like the way they set up things for later in the movie. Small things falling in the kitchen before all the cabinets bust open later in the movie and the dog messing with the basement door because something is down there. It’s things you may not pay any mind to the first time but notice on the second viewing. The story isn’t really what I’d call a story, but that’s not saying they’re bad movies. Most of the interactions seem improvised and so I wouldn’t say there’s much story involved to the movie, but that’s what they were going for. I did, however, think some of their demon information was glossed over or incorrect. Or maybe the people were just supposed to be kind of dumb. Micah decides at one point to burn the picture of Katie to show that demon what’s what. You think that one picture was what allowed him to manifest himself? I did, however, prefer one of the 4 endings that was not determined to be the real one more than this one. The one of her sitting on the bed rocking back and forth would’ve been much better. Then you could’ve made her run or disappear when the police arrived. I think that’s way more unsettling. And one other thing that bothers me every time I watch this: How do they get mad at Ali when she gets locked out? If there was ever any dispute about something in the house after it was completely covered in cameras, it would be as simple as “Let’s check the tapes.” Then you see the shadow, the knock, the door closing on it’s own, and Hunter being lifted up and out of his crib by a ghost and you maybe don’t get your asses killed by the end of the movie.

I’d say you’d have to give the acting a round of applause in these movies. All of the characters in the movies seem very real and make the situations suck you in more. If the lines are improvised, then you can extend that applause for a little longer. Their performances were almost enough to make me believe that this really was found footage, so that’s a compliment to the actors. If I might insult some of the actors though, I didn’t like looking at Katie in this movie. She has the look of someone that borders on looking good but hit the Haagen Daas a little too hard. And the movie scared me by having Micah try to get Katie nude on camera a few times. I’m not looking for that, man. I can expect it from Micah though, because he seemed to be either a douche nozzle or a moron through most of the movie. He did the exact opposite of what Katie requested and then seemed to get all innocent and play dumb when she got mad at him. Really, dude? And for him to be dumb enough to KNOW there is ghostly activity in his house but turn down the help of a professional because he’s so macho he thinks he can handle this shit by himself is retarded. I understand turning down a psychic because you don’t believe in this stuff, but if you’ve seen it many times, take the man’s word for it. You could still be alive. I was happy when Sprague Grayden entered as Kristi because she was actually good looking. As was Molly Ephraim … maybe. Depends on how old she is. I also liked the little kids that played Hunter. I don’t know if it was intentional, but to have the kid staring at something that isn’t there from the moment they bring him into the house is a nice touch. I would’ve liked it if they either made the Mexican maid speak English or subtitled her, though. I am not fixing to learn Spanish to get possible inside scoops on this movie.

So I kind of like both movies here, but let’s compare the two. Most people liked PA a lot, but most people did not like PA2. I’d call it a bit harsh to say I DIDN’T like PA2, but it was definitely the worst of the 3. Even though there are a lot of things that are almost exactly the same between the two movies, I feel as though the second movie gets docked a little bit because it wasn’t the one that started it. Kind of like Bioshock 1 and 2. The second one wasn’t a bad game and had the same feel and atmosphere as the first, but it didn’t start it. It just recreated it. I did like that PA2 gave us more than the one camera angle while simultaneously making the footage we’re watching more believable. I doubt Micah would take that camera every single place he went during the course of the movie and I’m sure Katie wouldn’t have allowed it, but when you make it surveillance cameras you can believe that the footage was caught. I would say both of the movies start pretty slow, but both also build the tension by just shoveling it on top of us over and over until the movie ends. The biggest problem, PA ends in a cool crescendo, PA2 instantly deflated me with the goofiest neck snap delivered by Katie to Dan that I’ve ever seen. It bummed me out so much that it was really goofy and unrealistic. You could’ve done so much better. Either something supernatural or even just having Katie come up behind him and stab him or slit his throat. That neck break took me down quite a bit on my enjoyment of PA2.

I’d say I’ve gone on long enough, eh? Come back tomorrow for my review of the prequel, Paranormal Activity 3. I promise it will be shorter. Both movies are good, but PA is far superior to PA 2. I say watch them both and then you can find out tomorrow if I think you should watch all three. I’ll give Paranormal Activity “What it probably wants is Katie” out of “That’s a thing of beauty.” Paranormal Activity can have “We just can’t let this affect us that much” out of “Who left the front door open?”

Hey, peeps. Why not rate and comment on this as a favor to good ole Robert, eh? And tell your friends! Let’s make me famous!