It is undeniable that The Chernobyl Diaries had some serious potential – the Ukranian nuclear catastrophe has always been an interesting, mystifying and terrifying event in our history. The magnitude of the chaos and destruction which occurred on that fateful day in 1986 still leaves the human race in dread and disbelief of what could have been a 20th century apocalypse.
The facts of the disaster alone are difficult to resist, especially to the imagination of an established horror creator such as Oren Peli (best known for Paranormal Activity), who through his experience and success could turn this ill-fated incident into dark and thought provoking entertainment allowing all us horror fans to lavish in nail biting delight.
The Chernobyl Diaries tells the story of a group of travellers who are persuaded to partake in what can only be described as “extreme tourism” through a Ukrainian ex-military connection. The six travellers venture into the city of Pripyat, famously abandoned since the 1986 disaster due to the dangerously high levels of radiation, after ignoring the warnings of the National Guard and entering the city through a questionable alternative entrance.
The group are only permitted by their guide to explore the location for a couple of hours to avoid the still-dangerous levels of radiation. But when it is time to leave Pripyat, their van fails to start and, upon inspection, the engine has obviously had wires and cables slashed by persons unknown. 13 miles to the nearest checkpoint, the team are abruptly met with the disturbing realisation that they are far from being alone, and are in mortal danger…
The film has noticeable positives. Shot on location in Eastern Europe, you are soon drawn in and unsettled by sights such as completely derelict apartments, cars and most prominently a large red Ferris wheel, awaiting the arrival of the ‘May day’ celebration, which obviously never came. The recent brilliance of its producer and the overall concept of the storyline are bonuses too. These factors incorporated promise horror gold.
Disappointingly, however, my expectations for what could have been the most memorable horror film of 2012 were undoubtedly shattered as the film develops, becoming increasingly formulaic and uncomfortable to watch. The acting abilities of the cast are questionable with sometimes excruciatingly obvious improvisation and over-the-top ‘superhero-esque’ statements in situations throughout the film where you find yourself in disbelief at the characters’ ‘heroic’ stupidity. The classic bad horror film component, mocked by spoof films for over a decade, is basically the spine of the film: Whatever you think would be the most appropriate course of action in this life-or-death situation, the characters continuously do the complete opposite, with plenty of surprised hysteria accompanying the inevitable.
Had the film not followed the ‘found footage’ style – drawing obvious comparisons to The Blair Witch Project – I doubt that I could have endured through the entire film. Shaky camera work and mere glimpses of the monsters pursuing the characters are the only factors which draw you away from the predictability of the film.
It is such a shame that the story of the Chernobyl accident was moulded into a poorly-executed horror project. An isolated location inhabited by mutated humans has been done before (Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.) and it is vexing that Peli didn’t see the potential for originality, turning the terrible accounts of the disaster into informative and terrifying entertainment in the form of historical drama, a horror Titanic. Instead he plumps for yet another zombie horror.
Overall, I would not suggest this film to thrillseekers, or die hard horror fans such as myself, as I guarantee you will walk away frustrated and disappointed. Good for a few jumps, if you are easily rattled, The Chernobyl Diaries is, at best, very simple and unchallenging entertainment; at worst, a wasted opportunity.
The Chernobyl Diaries is released nationwide tomorrow (22nd June)