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Chernobyl Diaries: A Good Attempt Falls Flat
Chernobyl Diaries is the sophomore project of Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli and is about a group of tourists who decide to take a venture into “extreme tourism” (yes, they actually called it that) by wandering out in a bus with one tour guide to a town called Pripyat, which housed the workers from Chernobyl, and is completely abandoned. As they spend time in the city, and the tour guide emphasizes many times they should leave before dark, they hear odd noises and the van is sabotaged. Without ruining too much, what follows afterwards is a slew of noises being caused by something off of camera and poorly lit mutants that surface and disappear.
I was happy this didn’t turn out to be a found footage film, and I was somewhat eager to see what Peli did following his success, but was immediately disappointed by the acting ability of the entirely unknown cast. Jonathan Sadownski as the trouble causing lead, Paul, comes off as an unseasoned Bradley Cooper, yet without looming potential to learn how to create believability in a scene. The entire ensemble of young actors and actresses do a less than B-movie job of seeming scared or showing any emotion whatsoever.
But, nobody watches horror films for the acting, do they? As far as plot and overall execution, the film was not terrible. The concept was very intriguing (mutants created from nuclear fallout), and bizarre stuff occurred (people kidnapped but not sure why), and there was plenty of blood (Some potential cannibalism). The set was beautiful and truly represented the devastating atmosphere of a town completely abandoned in a hurry and the lifelessness of a city that suffered from radiation exposure for years.
The movie was alright, but not one I would encourage anybody to immediately add to their October horror movie list. I was at least happy that there are new efforts made in the horror genre that don’t involve a torture scene, a rape, or a terribly rendered monster in 100% CGI. The movie does build a foundation of suspense from the old-school methods of scratching noises, footsteps, squishy sounds, and screams to really tense up the film. Yet, these efforts do not create enough of a moment that anyone would find themselves covering their eyes with a pillow. This is one you could safely watch with the lights off and eyes wide open.
As the title says, this was a great attempt that just so happens to fall flat, but also leads me to believe that Peli may be a someone we should keep our eyes on. What I took away was a dedication to the genre that I would have expected a successful first time filmmaker to abandon after gaining success. Give the film a shot, just don’t expect too much, and if at all possible, borrow it, don’t pay anything.