Just Say Nyet to Chernobyl Diaries

I’m the one. The one person in the movie-going world who didn’t see Paranormal Activity. I didn’t want to respond to the hype. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to see a movie that seemed to consist of nothing but grainy security-camera footage.

And I was too scared.

Now, from Oren Peli, the writer/producer who brought us Paranormal Activity, comes Chernobyl Diaries. I like the idea of the movie: a group of friends on a European tour decide to do some extreme tourism by visiting Chernobyl, site of the worst nuclear disaster in history. Or more accurately, they visit the bedroom community right next door. Isn’t the radiation still too bad for tourism? Sure, but they’ll be in and out in two hours. What could go wrong?

Only everything.

And it will all go terribly, terribly wrong.

But none of it—absolutely none of it—will scare you. And isn’t that the only point of a horror movie?

The story starts with our band of bright-young-things living it up, visiting all the must-see vacation spots, going to parties, yucking it up. Then they go to Chernobyl, where, one-by-one, they will be dragged kicking and screaming into the darkness. That last part is a lot like how things look around my house every morning when I have to go to work.

A movie like Chernobyl Diaries depends heavily on our imagination. We are often more frightened by what we can’t see than by what we can. This is Moviemaking 101. But you have to show us something. Unfortunately, the blurry glimpses of the irradiated residents of Chernobyl don’t trigger our imaginations. Instead, they make us think the budget must not have allowed for any creature effects.

Isn’t there at least one surprising moment in the movie? I have to admit that, when our intrepid band hear a noise down the hall in an abandoned apartment, the source surprised me, but more the ha-ha-look-at-that kind of surprise than the get-me-outta-here kind of surprise.

And I liked the faded look of the movie, as if the radiation had leached all the color out of the landscape and the very walls of the buildings.

The acting is serviceable, with an improv feel that makes the dialogue sound more spoken than written. But the dialogue in such movies is all pretty much the same:

It’ll be fun!
Where are we?
This is the last time . . .
Who’s there?
Please help us!
Did you see that?
We got to get out of here!
Oh no!
[Scream] [Scream] [Scream]
I’m no good to you. You’ll move faster on your own.
We’ll find him!
Take my hand!
[whimper . . . whimper . . . SCREAM]

By the way, have you noticed the number of movies being shot in eastern Europe? This one looks like it was filmed on the same streets as the more inventive The Darkest Hour. If the camera were to move a few inches, I swear we’d see the other movie’s cast down the street, running from aliens. And we’d wish we were there.


Author: Brent Spencer

I'm a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and screenplays. My most recent book, a memoir, is Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son's Search for His Father. I live on an acreage in eastern Nebraska and teach creative writing at Creighton University. You can find out more about me and at http://brentspencerwriter.com. (Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

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