Wait, let me back up, I think I must be confusing my references. That’s actually from the Chernobyl level in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Strange, I’d almost forgotten everything there is to know about this film called Chernobyl Diaries in the 12 hours since I saw it, but it’s coming back to me. Oh dear lord, it’s coming back to me.
This film, directed by first-timer Bradley Parker via Oren Peli’s (Paranormal Activity) concept, is abysmal. Abysmal in concept, execution, delivery – Chernobyl Diaries is an utterly pedestrian experience that’s quite possibly the worst film I’ll see in 2012. I would rather read the brail version of Anne Frank’s diary in the actual Chernobyl than ever have to sit through this piece of shit film again. Let’s start with the film’s biggest offense and work our way down.
Wes Craven needs to be credited somewhere here; this movie is The Hills of Chernobyl Have Eyes As Well. It’s his concept, lifted and deposited in the setting of Chernobyl. Both the title and the trailers are pushing found footage but, aside from the first three minutes where we see some of the kids backpacking through Europe, this film avoids the concept even though it doing its best to mimic the look. Parker shoots the entire ordeal via handheld buttcam, but there’s no character holding the camera.
Six young tourists are taken on an extreme backpacking excursion through barren, abandoned, radioactive wasteland that is the real life city of Pripyat and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Only they end up getting stranded. It’s not long before they realize that Chernobyl isn’t so abandoned, and that something is after them. Could it be overgrown radioactive fish with human legs? Giant praying mantises laying eggs inside their bodies? Or perhaps it’s boring old mutants. Yeah, it’s probably mutants.
And that’s the funny thing with Chernobyl Diaries, you never really see the antagonists. Yes, they’re definitely mutants, but we only see quick glimpses or shadows. Worse, they kill not one single character on screen. Chernobyl Diaries promises gunfire. Off screen. Rabid dog attacks. Off screen. Murdery mutant mayhem. Off screen. Only one character dies on screen in all of this film, and he isn’t even killed by mutants. Which means that Chernobyl Diaries earns the unique distinction of being the only killer mutant movie where no mutants are seen killing anyone. How can I be sure that the mutants are the culprits behind any of this? Maybe the characters die on account of human error, zigging the rough terrain when they should be zagging. Sure, these creatures are snatching people and chasing them, but is it possible that they’re trying to warn these kids? “Don’t you idiots know you’re in a radioactive wasteland?”
And they are idiots. Chris and Paul, brothers in the film, are played respectively by pop star Jesse McCartney and some other guy. It’s Chris and his two friends who go to visit Paul in the Ukraine. Chris is unbearably weak, whining and crying at every opportunity. McCartney is terribly miscast (now and forever), looking like he’s auditioning for the Frankie Muniz role in a Malcolm in the Middle revival. We can’t be sure if Chris dies in the film (though we can dream), he just sort of disappears and is never heard from again. Is it better to burn out than to fade away? Sadly, with Chris we’ll never know.
Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) is only slightly more tolerable, but I found myself getting jealous when he began screaming “My eyes! I can’t see!” If only we were as lucky.
Fans of horror looking for their fix need best steer clear of this film. As most of the deaths happen offscreen, there’s hardly any gore in the film. I’ve seen papercuts bloodier than Chernobyl Diaries. The best special effect / action sequence occurs when the characters stare at a mutated fish and it just sort of flinches a bit. What’s worse, there are no ideas in this film that make something more of the concept. It’s just a concept and a setting – one where the most interesting moments are happening somewhere else. It begins, it ends, and I’m still not entirely sure what occurred in between, or why I should care.
If you’re thinking about seeing Chernobyl Diaries this weekend, fucking don’t.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars