Based on the trailer for "Chernobyl Diaries" I had the feeling that this would not be very good, not only because this kind of movie has been done to death, but also because I just could not get my head around visiting Chernobyl. I mean, that seems like a really REALLY bad idea, even if there weren't mutants or zombies or monsters or cannibals or science experiments or whatever the hell they were supposed to be.
And, unsurprisingly, since I am unfortunately cursed with good insight, I was correct. It wasn't very good. However, two things I did find surprising. The first was that the characters did not die in the order I expected them to, and the second was that it doesn't start bad. It just starts halfway interesting and coasts downhill from there until the end credits come to smack you in the face as you're gnashing your teeth to powder at the absurdly bad ending.
This "starting halfway interesting" thing came from the one thing the movie did reasonably well, which was the buildup of tension. The buildup to actually getting to the city is handled pretty well, with very little in the way of music, and enough vague foreshadowing to hint at the danger ahead. It isn't a terrible way to begin a horror film, and works pretty effectively. That is, up to a certain point.
The problem is that this slow burn technique takes what seems like the first 45 minutes of the movie. This slow beginning can work on occasion, but "Chernobyl Diaries" takes about 20 minutes too long to get ball rolling. It crosses a line between ominous and boring.
There comes a point in the film, I think probably about the sixth time they go into a creepy abandoned building which looks exactly the same as every other building we've seen, the movie hits a critical mass when you just have to say "Just get to the monsters, already. We know they're there." This is because walking around the abandoned city, while admittedly creepy, wears out its welcome pretty quickly. It gets boring, and had they either given us something besides empty streets or gotten to the monster quicker, it may have worked a bit better.
But any accumulated tension starts drifting away gradually as the group continues going on a half-assed tour of Chernobyl as led by The Heavy from Team Fortress 2. What it all boils down to is little more than -
"Here. Dis buildingk iz obandoned. Is wery zscary, no?"
"Oh man, that's messed up, dude."
"Look. Here iz anooder buildingk. Iz alzo obandoned. Wery zscary, alzo."
"This is SO creepy."
"Shouldn't we be concerned about all the radiation?"
"Radiation iz no problems. Iz good for you. You listen to Sergei."
This goes on for like 35 minutes.
"Later I get you all cheap prostitute, eh? Iz best in all Chernobyl. You trust Sergei."
It's like, "I know what you THINK you're doing, movie...but you're giving yourself far too much credit. You're not that scary."
Once things actually start happening, the movie starts on an upswing, but it doesn't last too long. A rather well done scene that involves the group trapped in the van while feral dogs are attacking is pretty well handled, especially since the camera never leaves the vehicle and the whole thing is done in one shot. However, right after that "Chernobyl Diaries" circles the drain slowly as it becomes every single movie like this you've ever seen.
One could almost sing along to the cliches as they go by, one after another. One of the guys is hurt. They can't leave him, but they can't carry him, so they go off on their own to get help. It doesn't work out, and they come back. People start getting picked off one by one. Every time another person disappears, everyone else runs after them to try and find them, further lowering their chances. The group heads deeper and deeper into the lair of the monsters until there's only one person left. Finally there is the obligatory crappy uber-bleak "twist" ending with Marylin Manson being cranked over the credits.
That'll be $10.00.
It's not that it's especially poorly done, but I for one just can't find the rationalization for making a movie like this. It's just so stock. Who would write this? I want to know at what point the writer said to themselves, "You know, this premise has been done roughly 17,739 times before, and none of them have ever been particular good, but I think there's something special about THIS one."
I also find it hard to sympathize with characters who are stupid. Riddle me this, everybody: What do you do when someone with a broken leg needs to be transported?
"Chernobyl Diaries" understands that when someone has a broken leg, it's physically impossible for them to be moved. After all, the only way someone can move from one location to the other is to walk under their own power. And despite the fact that there are 5 other people there and a veritable gold mine of scrap materials around, making something to help transport the injured person is simply not a viable option.
And of course, us in the real world would say "MAKE A F@#KING STRETCHER YOU ASS CLOWNS!!!!!!!
Pictured above - That awkward moment when you realize you're all stupid.
Before wrapping up with this forgettable piece of trash, there is one moment from "Chernobyl Diaries" that I will actually remember more than 2 days from now, but not for good reasons. The reason I will remember this is because it's one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a horror movie. So much so that it was hysterical.
Allow me to set the scene for you: It's the dead of night. The last 4 survivors are running for their lives through the ruins of a long deserted city. Killer mutants are chasing them, picking them off one by one, taking them back to their lair and eating them. They stop beside a staircase leading down below the streets to catch their breath. Over gasps and panting, there are various things being said like "Did you see that?!" and "I think we lost them."
Suddenly, one of the characters gasps "What's THAT?!" as the camera WHIPS around to show, standing about 30 feet in front of them...
A little girl is standing perfectly still with her back turned to them. Not. Moving. A muscle.
The characters mumble "Oh my god..." and "It's a girl" and "Are you ok?" and start walking towards her...very...very...VERY slowly. At no point does she move. As they approach her, the character who was dumb enough to sit right at the mouth of the scary staircase gets picked off, although the others run after her in an attempt to save her, which only gets them more boned. Oh, and the little girl? DISAPPEARS. Never seen again.
Are you serious with this crap? Are we really doing this? THIS?! Is this stupid movie ripping off a haunted house cliche with the little girl standing rock still for no other reason that it's supposedly scary? Why? What sense does that make? The town isn't haunted, it's infested with killer mutants.
Where did the little girl come from? Is she a mutant? They didn't seem that intelligent to do anything other than run screaming towards its food and try to eat it. Why would one of them just stand there with her back turned? That makes no sense. And if it was a mutant, why was it wearing a dress? The other mutants were naked. Why was its hair reasonably well done? Do the mutants use combs in the ruins of Chernobyl?
And even if it was a mutant, that doesn't seem like a very effective hunting strategy. Although it was hysterical to me imagining how that plan must have gone down.
"Ok! Ok, Charlie! I've got this great idea, man! It's going to be awesome!"
"Alright Frank, what have you got?"
"So me and Ronnie are going to hide in that staircase, right? We'll wait for those tourists to run by us, and we'll hope that they'll stop there to catch their breath."
"Wait, you HOPE they will?"
"Well, we just have to be optimistic. Otherwise this whole thing is kind of screwed."
"Seems flimsy, but go on."
"Well, while me and Ronnie are hiding, Ronnie's gonna dress his little girl up in a dress we found in one of those apartments a while back."
"But Frank, we don't wear clothes. I'm not even sure my deformed body could fit in normal clothes anymore."
"Charlie, just shut up, you killjoy! What Susie's gonna do is just STAND THERE. With her back turned!"
"To totally freak them out, dude!"
"Frank, we've eaten 3 of their friends at this point. I don't think Susie just standing there is going to up any stakes as far as "freaking them out" goes."
"But Charlie, that's the beauty of it! When she's standing there, we'll grab another one of them! Hopefully they'll be near the stairs, otherwise they might see us coming and the whole thing will be ruined. It's all about the shock."
"Frank, if you want to shock them, why don't we all just pour out of the stairway at once and kill them. Come on dude, I'm getting hungry."
"Charlie...you're no fun, you know that? You have NO flair for drama."
THE BOTTOM LINE - "Chernobyl Diaries" is a slightly below average example of the horror genre, with some elements of the found footage genre thrown in for seasoning. Its biggest problem is that fact that we've seen this a thousand times before, and it does nothing new whatsoever except stick mutants somewhere we haven't seen mutants yet. Not worth watching unless you've never seen a movie like this in your life. Then don't watch it because there are better examples out there. Skip it.