Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries

Get out your geiger counters, we're reviewing Chernobyl Diaries!

I wasn't expecting much from this horror movie, but I didn't think it would be this awful.  There's little reason to see it, especially if you've already seen Cabin in the Woods, in which case it looks utterly ridiculous.  Spoilers ahead, but really, you'll thank me later.

Four friends and two extra people who we have no reason to care about decide to go on an "extreme tour" of the town of Pripyat, the village closest to Chernobyl, because they are all dumb. That's really the best explanation I can muster, they are all dumb as bricks.  And then crazy mutant things attack them because they are dumb.

There's really no other explanation as to why someone would go to a radiated town, alone, for fun, other than "becuase they are dumb". And it's this justification for the whole event that I can never really get over for the entire movie.  Not that I'm sure there are probably people dumb enough that they would want to explore the town closest to Chernobyl, but that they do does not make me care about them or what happens to them in the least. And pretty much anything scary in the movie I have no reason to be scared of because I can write it off as I AM NOT DUMB ENOUGH TO GO VISIT CHERNOBYL and therefore never have to worry about these things. I'm sorry, I know this is supposed to be a "dumb" horror movie, but if your only justification for going to Chernobyl is because you're bored or you're brow-beaten with peer pressure by your bored friends, you are dumb. And it's not that I even want them to die because they are so dumb, it's that I don't care about their story or character at all.

A lot of horror movies will have teens going up to a secluded cabin in the woods or a small town just to have fun, but that at least makes sense. People go out into nature to camp and hike all the time and nothing happens to them. Hell, if this were a romantic comedy instead of a horror movie, they'd be busy having love triangles and talking about their feelings while looking out at lakes instead of getting murdered one by one.  But this whole Chernobyl thing is something no one in their right mind would do unless they had an extremely fucking good reason why they HAD to do it.  Make them journalists who want to find out the "truth" behind Chernobyl and they can't leave without getting a story or they'll lose their job! Make them all poor graduates and some sick fuck will give them all a million dollars if they spend one night there! Have them hijacked and taken hostage and this is the closest place where no one is around and the kidnapper won't let them leave!  Those are all better justifications AND have the added value of providing stories, instead of just, "stuff happens". But, "Hey, let's go to Chernobyl because we feel like it"? Fuck no.
"If you're friends all went to visit Chernobyl, WOULD YOU?!"
I guess I should probably start talking about the movie now. Well first things first, it's full of shaky cam. It is by far the shakiest shaky cam I've ever experienced in a movie, so if you can't stand Shaky cam, you will be physically sick by this movie. I can usually stand it, but it got to the point where I had to look away from the screen every ten or twenty minutes because I was so nauseated.  And the strange thing is, there is no cameraman in the story!  They're using the crutch of shaky cam without having the bonus of having a cameraman a part of the adventure! It's ridiculous! There was one jarring time they go out of the store and the guy locks up with the cameraman still in there. "Guys! Hey guys you locked me in! Wtf guys?!" And at one point, the cameraman zooms into a handheld camera so they can watch an even shakier video of past events! It's intolerable.

The worst thing about this movie is that nothing happens. You never get a money shot of the monsters and all the characters die off screen.  It's really annoying.  One of the best parts of horror movies is seeing cool monster concepts or amazing bloody death scenes, but there are absolutely none to be had here.  There's no payoff of all this tension and running around, and it feels like a huge copout.
You never see the monsters killing or hurting people, they're just taken at best, so you start to think, is there something more going on here?  Are they a secret society and they're keeping them alive for something? Are they really trying to help them and give them hugs? Is there some big conspiracy where the tour guide is sacrificing these kids? Except, no, there really isn't.  In fact, there's not really much of an explanation about what's going on or why they were taken and what exactly the things are, which just makes all this feel lazy and a HUGE waste of time.  There are parts early on that have tension, but considering all the good stuff happens off screen and you never see anything bad happen to the protagonists, you start to lose that sense of tension. Why should we care these things are attacking if we don't know what they are or what they're doing?

To the movie's credit, I can see what they were trying to do, and I respect it.  They keep the camera with only one group of characters at a time, instead of cutting back and forth between different characters. It makes the story feel more central and realistic.  You only see what the characters see, and you only see the other characters if the main ones re-join the group. It's an interesting approach, and in another movie it might have been a brilliant kind of storytelling. However, it's undermined by the lack of payoff, dumb characters, and nothing happening.  At a certain point it doesn't make sense. They lose a girl early on, then get her back, but she won't say anything about what happened to her or how she escaped. They don't even examine her to find out what happened. And then they lose her again where she dies off screen. What was even the point of that?
Irradiated hugs are the best kinds of hugs.
Can we talk about the dumb characters? Because they are all dumb.  When they lose one member of the party, they insist on shouting their name even though they know there are things out there and they need to keep quiet. More than once they had to run somewhere, but instead of running and talking they elected to stop and talk about stuff instead of running.  They leave an injured guy and one girl alone while the four other party members leave. Why?  And when the tour guide's walkie talkie doesn't work, NONE OF THEM THINK TO USE THEIR CELL PHONES. Now in most horror movies these days it's written off with "I don't have reception" or "my battery died", but here they can't even muster the energy to explain why no one would even think of it. So I have to think they all have working cell phones but they are all just too dumb to realize it. They were taking pictures with them before! Could it be this movie is trying to say something about technology and society, that we're so far advanced in smart phones we don't even realize they're still phones?  I doubt it.

Storywise, it's crap.  They introduce characters and give reasons why we should care about them, but then don't really do anything with them.  They introduce two tourists that have no back story and don't really explain anything about them.  Honestly, the premise of being trapped in a radiation filled Chernobyl town is not a bad idea, but it's undermined by the stupid justifucation for being there. I wish there was a better reason, becuase it does sound interesting, and they even have some nice shots of abondoned buildings.  In another movie, this might have been a cool idea. But there are so many wasted opportunities here.

They're stuck out in their tour van becuase someone messed up the wires(it's never explaiend who or what did it), so they look for car parts to replace it. They actually find them, but when they come back, the van is completely flipped over and the people who were staying there are now gone. Who or what did that?!  In any other movie, this would have been the money shot of a crowd of monsters seriously fucking up this huge van.  And here they don't even show it!

Early on the characters find this monster looking fish beached up on the bank. And then a character sees what looks like more of them swimming around. So obviously, someone is falling in that lake. I have no problem with heavy foreshadowing, but what happens? They have to cross the river, a guy falls in, he goes "ow!" and they drag him to the bank to see he has a couple of bite wounds on his leg. That's it?!  I want him eaten alive by monster fish! I want him to die screaming! Why even bother with it if you're not going to use it?!

We had it wrong! They're not radioactive, they're Radiohead fans! 
You know what the topper is? There is no reason this should be called Chernobyl Diaries.  It's not being recorded, this wasn't based on true events or fake true events, and they never uncovered any bigger conspiracy in which they find diaries or journals or recordings of some sort. So why Diaries? It should be called Six Idiots Visit Chernobyl Because They Are Dumb.  Also, there are zero non-white people in this movie. Really?

Chernobyl Diaries is an awful horror movie. Not in a bad fun way, just in a dumb boring way.  There's no fun deaths, no cool monster designs, no interesting story, or premise, there's really nothing new here and no reason why you need to watch it.  It has an interesting premise which is undermined by the poor justification, and a half way decent story-telling mechanic which is undermined by stupid characters, no payoff and horrible horrible shaky cam.  Do not even bother.

THE GOOD: Interesting idea of chernobyl, interesting storytelling mechanic, some nice atmospheric shots of abandoned buildings.

THE BAD: Dumb characters, dumb reason for coming, nothing happens on screen, no good deaths, no monsters, no explanation for why this is happening, no story, intolerable shaky cam, no minorities.

THE VERDICT: $ Don't even bother.  There are so may better dumb horror movies.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Quarantine, The River, Paranormal Activity, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: You know that scene in the trailers with the little girl? Creepy, right? Excpet you never see the little girl again, even in monster form, or any kind of kids at all. So where did she come from? It's never explaiened if that was a doll or a dead body or one of the "things", and for that matter if it's a whole village or if she's one of the original residents, or if they're experimenting on kids or anything. They don't even get the chance to use a creepy girl monster attacking someone! Why? Just why?!

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