Chernobyl Diaries: Great Premise, but Little Follow Through

              I, like a lot of people, was really eager to see Chernobyl Diaries this past holiday weekend, so on Sunday I got a small group together and we went to see the movie. Unfortunately, it was not what I hoped it would be. I must warn you, I will give out lots of spoilers in this review, so if that’s fine with you, read onward. If not, stop now.

            Don’t like spoilers? You better stop reading now.

             Everyone good to go?

            So the premise of the movie sounded interesting to me: a nuclear disaster in the Chernobyl nuclear plant forced the nearby town of Prypiat to evacuate overnight, leaving pretty much all their belongings behind. A group of tourists, encouraged by a Ukrainian guide to engage in his special “extreme tourism” group, decides to go explore the ruins of the city of Prypiat—-but they realize they are not alone.

            What follows is nothing but cliché scary movie plot point after cliché scary movie plot point. Even the characters are pretty cliché: our American four (who all know each other and have known each other for a long time) consist of a pair of brothers, the younger brother’s fiancé= a hot blond, a recently single hot brunette. The other couple along for the ride appears to be a couple of backpackers. They are a couple who have been together only a month, seem to be Australian by the accents the actors had, and I had a feeling they would perish as soon as they were introduced. And who can forget Uri, the former special ops tough guy acting as the tour guide. I’ll give you 2 guesses on who dies first.

            When they get to the check point, guards refuse to let them in, saying that they are “doing maintenance” on the town. Rather than deciding it is in their best interest to abandon the idea and get their money back, the tour guide takes a “shortcut” of sorts and sneaks them into town. The group explores the area, get their fill of sightseeing, and when they go to leave (lo and behold) the van won’t start and the wires are chewed up. They try to call for help on their radio and get no answer, of course; with night falling, the group has no choice but to spend the night in the van—with the lights on, because apparently these people are all scaredy cats who’d rather kill the battery in the car than sit in the dark– stranded in the middle of the town.      

            Of course, they start hearing scary sounds and the tour guide—the guy who got them there and is the only one who knows the area well enough to lead them out— decides to get out and investigate. (Why the hell did you leave the van??!!!) One of the main characters in the group, Chris, argues with his brother, Paul, and goes out with Uri and into the darkness (Again, WHY THE HELL DID YOU LEAVE THE VAN???!!!)… Then something attacks them. We are watching the scene from the van with the rest of the group, and can see nothing. Paul frantically runs out to his brother’s aid, and drags him back into the van, just barely escaping the wild dogs which then jump and crash into the sides of the van, hoping to get some more fresh meat.  Uri the tour guide is missing (aka: dead), and Chris’s legs are mangled, rendering him utterly useless for the rest of the movie. He babbles about there being something else out there besides the wild dogs, but he never goes into detail as to what it was or what he thinks it was.

            Then the whole movie really takes a turn for retarded. For some stupid reason, the group decides NOT to immediately head out of the town and back into civilization, and instead decides to go look for Uri, whom any idiot can already tell is dead. They try to pick up Chris and carry him, in the most stupid way possible and realize they can’t carry him that way, so they instead leave him and his fiancée, Natalie the blond, ALONE together in the van while they look for Uri and anything to help them fix the van so they can get it running.  

            Seriously, why the hell did they not start hiking out of there as soon as it was light out? They were saying it was 12 miles away, like they could never possibly walk that far. 12 miles is not that far. It’s not even a half marathon. Granted, the fact that they would have to carry Chris would have slowed them down, but they could have done it. And about Chris, why did no one try carrying him piggy back style? They could have done that and alternated with other members of the group when one person was too tired to carry him any longer. I know that at least Paul and the other guy could have handled that.

          For some reason it takes the group ALL DAY to track down Uri’s remains and get his gun, and then explore a parking lot for parts for the van. (By the way….wouldn’t all those parts be too full of radiation and rendered useless anyway?) When they get back to where the van was, they discover it is flipped over and utterly trashed, and Chris and Natalie are gone. Nearby they find a video camera which they learn recorded what happened to the pair. Paul freaks out, starts screaming out in the middle of the darkness for Chris (because apparently that’s EXACTLY what to do when there is some unknown thing out in the darkness that likes to kill and eat dumb tourists) and they begin looking for him…. Of course from this point on, the characters get plucked off one by one in typical scary movie fashion. All the while, they continue to scream in the darkness when there is imminent danger nearby, not thinking they are alerting whatever is there to their presence. The only time screaming would have actually been helpful was when one of the characters gets snatched away, and of course that’s the one time we get a girl who isn’t screaming.

          Contrived and cliché are two of the words that come to mind when I think about the writing in Chernobyl Diaries. It has all of the typical scary movie fare: let’s go into that scary place for no real reason, oh no the car won’t start, the tour guide is gone, let’s go look for character x/ I can’t leave without character x, there’s something there, scary sounds, shaky flashlights, something’s there but we can’t see what, let’s leave the van for no real reason, dumb characters making poor decisions, something scary jumps out at you!…..etc.

But beyond that, here are the things that drove me the most insane:

  1. The title is misleading. With a name like “Chernobyl Diaries” you’d expect it to be one of those “found footage” films like [REC], Cloverfield, or the Blair Witch Project……but it’s not. On the off-chance that it wasn’t a “found footage” film, I had at least expected to have the characters discover some sort of documentation on what happened there or an actual diary from someone else who had fallen there as they were…. But that didn’t happen either. Apparently the title was chosen because it sounded cool or something…..*facepalm*
  2. The ending is ridiculous. You’ve been reading this far, so I assume spoiler alerts are no concern to you, but I’ll re-iterate: SPOILER ALERT: Everyone dies, one by one, until only Paul and the brunette, Amanda, are left. They run and run through a series of tunnels to escape the monster mutant zombie people (or whatever you wish to call them) and end up IN THE REACTOR. They are exposed to radiation levels so high that they actually get burns on their face, and Paul loses his sight. When they get out of the reactor, they discover what appears to be the Ukrainian army or something there with tanks and guns and spotlights. (Where the hell did they come from?) Paul starts calling to them in English and they are told to stay where they are. For some reason which I fail to understand, Paul, who is the one person in the whole group who can speak their language, decides not to; and instead keeps waving his arms, yelling in English, and moving forward, prompting the authorities to shoot him dead. Amanda collapses, barely alive and crying, on Paul’s corpse. She comes to on a stretcher and people around her are talking about the situation in Russian, which is subtitled for the audience. We discover they know about the group getting in and that they are all dead, they also allude to the mutant zombie monster people having been some sort of experiment that went wrong…but there is no further elaboration. They also say, “She’s seen them, we can’t let her go,” which clearly sets up what happens next. When she asks them what happened, they tell her in English that she was in the reactor and it was not a safe place to be, and then they ask her if anyone else knows she had been there. Amanda was a smart character through most of the movie, until this point. She answers no. At which point, they take her off of the stretcher, throw her in a room and bar the door shut. The room is full of the mutants and they eat her alive. The End. Why did they bother to take her out of there and keep her alive, if they were just going to kill her? Why throw her in the room with the mutant zombie monsters? She more than likely would have been dead in a week or less from the severe levels of radiation she had been exposed to anyway. The ending was one last cheap thrill that wasn’t necessary.
  3. The radiation is not taken nearly as seriously as it should be. They have a Geiger counter and don’t pay attention to it. The whole area is radioactive, and Uri tells them that it’s safe and “this is not my first rodeo.” Seriously? Radiation is serious, and a painful horrible way to die. Most of the people who died in the Chernobyl disaster did not die from the explosion, but from the radiation and exposure. Plus, for some reason they would occasionally remind the audience the area was radioactive, it seemed, by having the Geiger counter start beeping erratically and someone would comment that the radiation was getting “too high”…..but this never deterred the characters from walking in that direction! Common sense, where are you?
  4. Zombies? Mutants? Or mutant zombies? The people still in the town are never really explained. Were they left behind from the initial disaster? Were they brought there? Dumped there? Are they others who wandered in and got affected by radiation? The army people refer to them as “patients”. What sort of patients? You never get a real look at these people either, with all the flash lights and shaky camera filming, but we can tell they are at least intelligent. Hell, they used a decoy in the scene where they snatch Natalie. I honestly expected more of a mutant flick than a zombie flick and even one of my friends had that revelation halfway through the film of, “Ooooohhhhhh, this is a ZOMBIE movie…I think.”
  5. Plot holes and things that were started that were never finished. In one scene, there was a bear in the building. You never see a bear again. Uri notices remnants of a recent fire still smoldering in the hallway of one of the apartment buildings which he snubs out with his foot. Nothing is ever mentioned of it. One character falls in the water and gets his leg munched on by the radioactive fish. There is no mention about the wound again. They find a bus riddled with bullet holes, which are exit holes—indicating the shots were fired from someone inside at a threat on the outside. Nothing is in the bus, no bodies, no real clues other than a scrap of ripped cloth and some blood on a broken window, and it is forgotten. A small girl appears out of no where with her back to the group as a momentary distraction while Natalie is snatched away. We never see this sort of planning or the girl again. There are so many holes and things that started that never came to fruition that I began to wonder if I had missed something, or maybe half the movie was cut out before it was released.   
  6. The Cold War is over, and has been for a while. Perhaps it’s just me, but this is not the first movie that’s come out recently that tells Americans to be afraid of/don’t trustEastern Europe. (Hostel comes to mind.) It honestly makes me wonder if the reverse sorts of movies are put out in places like Russia and Slovakia. Just a thought.          

             I suppose the movie wasn’t all bad. Truth be told, I honestly did not know that much about the Chernobyldisaster and when I got home I felt eager to look it up and read more about it. The set was well done as well, and some areas of the movie look just like the photographs I have seen online. For that reason I guess it was worth a watch and it did have a few cheap thrills; but if you are looking for something groundbreaking and brilliantly suspenseful I think you should save your money.


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