Oh how I love the horror genre! So little creativity can take you such a long way in terms of solid entertainment value. Expressed mathematically, one could say that if the sum of all cliche's, plot holes and other faults is equal to or less than the scare factor, then, you have an entertaining film. "Horror's Law". In practice, scare factor doesn't seem that difficult to create, and even if cliched in its own right, most audiences are scared pretty easily. That's Chernobyl Diaries in a nutshell. There's plenty rubbish in there, but also enough scary bits to ensure that I had enough fun. Of course, this applies to robust viewing only. Discerning viewers should run for the hills (which, in this case, have eyes). After the jump, my review.
Chernobyl Diaries is a mixture of, let's see, EuroTrip, The Hills Have Eyes, Paranormal Activity and The Descent. I almost wished there was going to be a bit of The Crazies, Hostel or even Deliverance in there too, but it just wasn't meant to be. Some American kids go on a trip to Europe (EuroTrip) and end up staying with the older brother who is living in Kiev. He is the crazy one, and convinces the group to go on an extreme tourism day trip to the city of Pripyat, the abandoned former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. This "group" consists of the older crazy brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), his younger B-grade-DiCaprio-Ephron-esque brother Chris (Jesse McCartney), Chris's hot fiancee Natalie (Olivia Dudley) and her even hotter and newly single heartbroken friend Amanda (Devin Kelly). Oh, let's not forget - they hook up with a backpacking couple made up of an Australian dude and a presumably Norwegian girlfriend. How multicultural!
Needless to say, they head off to Pripyat, things go wrong, and people die. What goes wrong and how they die I will leave up to you to discover. The fact that they are in an abandoned, radioactive city should give you some clues (The Hills Have Eyes), but don't let it provide too many (The Crazies). As for the plot holes and cliches - there are many more than I already mentioned. If I could mention only one other, it would be the astounding stupidity of the characters, who somehow they find themselves in darker, shittier places (The Descent) with every passing minute. Let's face it, horror characters aren't all that smart. Hey, maybe it's that stupidity that lands them in the, uh, horrible situations in the first place. It makes perfect sense. Presto, all of a sudden stupid characters is no longer a horror movie cliche!
Okay but before I begin sounding like I suffer from sarcastic assholism, I have to add that the film had some great redeeming factors. First, the setting and the premise - doesn't Chernobyl fascinate everyone? I would definitely be tempted to go on a trip to Pripyat. And just look how unbelievably freaked out people are about Fukushima in Japan (deaths from tsunami: 16 000; deaths from radiation: zero, with only six workers exceeding the legal lifetime radiation exposure limit). It's a ghost story with a scientific basis: people fear most that which they cannot see. The setting was extremely realistic, and although it wasn't filmed at Pripyat itself (because of, uhm, the weather), shooting took place on location in Hungary and Serbia, including abandoned Nazi bunkers! Effort was made, and it really shows.
Other major positives worth a mention without spoiling anything were the Paranormal Activity-style jump-out-of-your-seat fright moments. Despite the setting, Chernobyl Diaries certainly does play more like a Paranormal Activity type movie than something akin to Hostel or The Crazies. After all, it was written and produced by Oren Peli, who directed Paranormal Activity. Isn't a few good scares all you really want from a film like this? It certainly is all I wanted, and that's what I got. The worst part of it is: you know when a scary bit is coming, but still you shit yourself.
So, if your film viewing habits could be described as robust rather than discerning, make sure you get to see Chernobyl Diaries at a theater near you. It is being released exclusively in Ster-Kinekor theaters in South Africa on Friday 11 August. It is already out in the US.
Oh, and a parting shot: as I Googled "Chernobyl Diaries" in order to find a picture for this post, I thought - what the hell is up with that title? There are no diaries. None.
6 out of 10