Friday, May 25, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries - 2012

Director:                        Bradley Parker
Story by:                         Oren Peli
Written by:                    Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke
   Based on The Diary of Lawson Oxford, by Oren Peli

Zoe                                   Ingrid Bolsø Berdal
Uri                                   Dimitri Diatchenko
Natalie                            Olivia Dudley
Amanda                         Devin Kelley
Chris                               Jesse McCartney
Michael                           Nathan Phillips
Paul                                Jonathan Sadowski

 Approximately 4 hours ago I attended an advance preview of the new film, “Chernobyl Diaries.”  I have prepared my review in the form of a Q & A session. 

Q:  What is the movie about?
A:  A group of young tourists in Europe go on an “extreme tour” to an area near the site of the Chernobyl disaster. 
Q:  What was that again?
A:  In 1986 a nuclear reactor in the Ukraine (at that time still part of what was formerly the USSR) called Chernobyl, near the town of Pripyat, experienced a meltdown and explosion.  Enormous amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere, causing death and illness to hundreds of thousands of people in the area and across Europe.  The residents of the town were evacuated. The reactor has been sealed in concrete and the area abandoned. 
Q:  So can anyone really go there?
A:  The government opened the town to tourists in 2011.  Some people have gone on what are called “extreme tours.”

Off on an adventure

Q:  Ok.  But why would anyone want to go there?
A:  I haven’t the slightest idea.  It seems a monumentally stupid thing to do.  Even today, radiation exists at the site.  The area will not be completely safe for thousands of years. 
Q:  But if people didn’t do stupid things, we wouldn’t have horror movies, would we?
A:  That’s a good point.  I also have to say, why on earth would you want to visit an abandoned town at all?  What is there to see?  Empty buildings that have been looted and are filled with trash and are dangerous to enter?  You can see that almost anywhere in Chicago. 

Q:  Is the movie any good?  That really is what we’re after here. 
A:  It’s merely ok.  The first hour or so does build tension.  There are a few scenes that made me jump, even though I was prepared for something to happen.  The tourists are harmless and not the usual obnoxious group of idiots we see in horror movies.  The plot does not develop them enough for me to care deeply about them, but I wasn’t rooting for anyone to die either. 
Q:  How about the last half hour of the movie?
A:  It disappointed me.  You could say that the plot has a meltdown.  The tension that was built earlier stops cold because it becomes pretty obvious what it is that is killing off the tourists.  There is a very slight twist at the end which was not satisfying in the least.
"What are our options?"

Q:  Did the plot make any sense at all?
A:  No.  There are enough holes in it to drive a Russian tank through.

Q:  Is there blood and gore?
A:  Yes, about the usual amount for this kind of movie.  There are also plenty of people running around in the dark being scared, and yelling:  “What are we gonna do!!????”  and “I’m not leaving here without him/her!!!!”

Q:  Do you recommend that someone see the movie?
A:  That depends.  Die hard horror fans will go because, well…because.  Just don’t be expecting a masterpiece.  And it isn’t something most people would want to watch twice.

Q:  Do you have any thoughts on how technology has changed at least one of the “rules” of horror?
A:  Yes, I do.  It is always necessary for the protagonists to be put in a situation where they are unable to call for or expect any assistance.  They have to be put in peril and not have any obvious way out.  In the old days it was easy.  Middle of nowhere – no phones.  Today everyone has a cell phone, so some reason has to be invented about why they still can’t call for help.  In this movie they simply say “no reception.”  That doesn't stop the phone from having another use, though.  The two kids left in the van record some video while the others are out looking around.  When the others return to the van, the video shows us what happened to the two left behind.  How can something feel clever and yet tired and overused at the same time?  Another mystery of "Chernobyl Diaries." 

Q:  What about the cast?  What did you think of the characters?
A:  Well, another of the so-called “rules” of horror films is:  The brightest, nicest, most dependable, and possibly least good-looking female makes it to the end.  That sort of happens here, but it sort of doesn’t.  The “rules” have changed in the last few years.  As for the actors, they do a decent job.

Q:  What else?
A:  I’m glad you asked.  Another of the old rules is:  There always has to be one female, preferably blonde, who is a little dim and/or slutty.  And she must have large breasts.  One of the characters here is blonde, she has the largest bosom, however she is fairly intelligent and not any more of a nitwit than any of the others - I’m very happy to say. 

Q:  Does this film remind you of any other movies?
A:  Mostly it makes me think of "The Descent", which was a far, far better movie.  Same kind of set up - young adventurers set out on what they think will be a fun afternoon at someplace a little different and exciting.  It's dark.  Very, very dark.  Their flashlights are starting to fade.  There are scary noises in the dark, and glimpses of something nasty.  They eventually find themselves running deeper into the danger instead of to some way to get the heck out of there. 

Q:  Does the movie provide any moral at the end?
A:  Yes.  There are several.
 1.  When traveling, always have a flashlight.

 2.  It’s best to travel with at least one person who is up on emergency first aid.

 3.  If you or ANY of your group has a gut feeling that whatever is being planned is not a good idea, listen.

 4.  If someone says something like:
 “Hey!  I just met this guy who has a terrific idea for a completely off-the-beaten-track adventure.  He said he will take us there and it’s absolutely safe.  He also said that if we are stopped at the entrance he knows another creepy, dangerous place to enter, which is far away from the guards who were telling us to go back for a good reason, so really nobody will know we are there.  Oh, and he said that spending a few hours soaking up radiation is no big deal.  Sounds great, huh?  No, I don't know this guy at all, I just met him five minutes ago.” 
Don’t listen to him.  Don’t go.  Stay in the hotel and order room service. 

 5.  If you are being chased through a dark tunnel by something horrible, and you keep going DOWN and DOWN instead of UP, you may want to consider the possibility that you are being herded and whatever you are going toward is much more horrible than whatever is behind you.

 6.  If you do have to go on the dumbly dangerous excursion, make at least a dozen people aware of where you are going and when to call the cops. 

 7.  It might also be a good idea to send for your dental records.  Just in case.

Q:  Do you think it is a little creepy and maybe downright unethical to make a horror movie which profits from the tragedy of others?
A:  Yes, but it happens all the time.  There are plenty of movies about real people or based on a true story, etc.  The problem with this movie is that it pretty cavalierly makes the on-going tragedy of many the major plot point.  Some Chernobyl survivor groups have protested strenuously about the movie.

Q:  Why is the name Oren Peli familiar?
A:  He is the man who wrote and directed the hugely successful film, “Paranormal Activity” in 2007.  He also wrote and/or directed and/or produced:  “Paranormal Activity 2 and 3”, and “Insidious”.

Q:  Do you feel slightly nauseated right now?
A:  Yes.  I’m not sure if it is because of the unpleasant fate of the characters, or because of the constant jerky hand-held camera technique which is used for absolutely no reason that I can come up with.  At least in "The Blair Witch Project" and even in "Cloverfield" there was a plausible explanation for the hand held camera (even though in "Cloverfield" the guy with the camera was a moron who kept filming cars and buildings instead of the creature).  It might also be because I was very hungry and ate one of the concession stand hot dogs.

Q:  Thank you.  Any last thoughts?
A:  Yes.  Stay away from the hot dogs.  Go for the popcorn instead.

Do you have any thoughts, questions or different opinions?  I would love to hear from you!  Please take advantage of the “Comment” area below.  Thanks!!

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