I Will Fight Chernobyl Diaries Personally

Now, here at No But Listen, we are constantly seduced by the lure of a bad horror film.

There’s just something about bad horror that’s fun in a way no other genre’s worst films are, which is what brought us to Chernobyl Diaries. Directed by Brad Parker, the 2012 release is most notable for being written by Oren Peli, his first screenwriting credit since 2007’s seminal horror classic Paranormal Activity. Following a group of tourists as they are led by a tour guide on a secretive trip to Pripyat, the town that served as the sight for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, this movie was badly-reviewed enough to lead us to believe it might actually be somewhat of a good, goofy, B-movie time. But friends…

This movie is dreck. And I mean fucking dreck. I was instantly rooting for pretty much all the characters to get eaten by a giant mutant fish or whatever the hell, their complete blundering disrespect and stupidity comparable to that of the great big bag of dogshite Hostel; this clumsy dialogue, grindingly ineffective attempts at character work, with the acting shifting between “they’re really trying, bless them” to “they…seemed to have given up trying on anything, at all, in their lives in general actually, and I think we might need to reach out to their healthcare professionals”.

The direction was honestly kind of shockingly bad: I’m not saying Brad Parker, who made his directorial debut here, had to be Park Chan-Wook right out of the gate, but there are some rookie errors here that render the movie nearly unwatchable. Long, confusing sequences where it’s virtually impossible to tell where everyone is in comparison to everyone else, shaky-cam “scare” scenes that are evidently as juddery as they are to disguise a complete lack of decent monster design, the list goes on. Not to mention the choice to shoot this movie with handheld cameras, which gives it the found footage (read: cheap) feel without any of the upsides that actually doing that genre properly delivers. It really feels like Peli’s involvement in this film had them slapping on anything they could that would serve as reminiscent to the excellent Paranormal Activity, even if it actively undermines the quality of this movie in the process.

I think what makes a truly dreadful movie is one that oozes with potential, and that’s exactly why I hate Chernobyl Diaries as much as I do. Because a horror movie set in the abandoned town of Pripyat is just a superb premise; say what you want about exploiting the tragedy that happened at Chernobyl (and plenty of people had a lot to say about it, as, I think, they well should) for the sake of making a film, but the fact is, they did make a movie here, set against this backdrop – and it fucking sucks.

To flub something as stunningly unique as this setting is absolutely one of the most frustrating parts of Chernobyl Diaries; there are moments here that look like they could have come straight from a Tarkovsky film, not because Parker is doing anything particularly interesting, but because the eeriness of this place is so rich and so compelling to start with. And to just focus the movie, mostly, on American tourists stumbling around this place and shrieking at everything while the camera is thrown around a tumble dryer, it feels like another missed opportunity – why not tell a story about the people who actually went through this, the impact on the community, anything but seeing it through the lens of the most irritating people on the planet.

It’s the horror film equivalent of sitting through a relative’s slideshow of them standing next to various international monuments with no further context – yeah, we’re here, I guess, but what does that mean? Can we talk about it a bit? No? Oh, okay. You just want to do “evil Eastern Europeans murder innocent Americans” again? You’re sure? That’s…a choice you’ve made.

Chernobyl Diaries is one of my least favourite movies of all time, because, somewhere in there, in that setting, there is an amazing horror film. It’s just not this one. I’m all for a bad horror film – but this one might just be too bad.

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By Lou MacGregor

(header image via The Phuket News)

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