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Release Date(s)2012 (October 16, 2012)
How long should you wait before using a major disaster as fodder for a ridiculous horror movie? According to the makers of Chernobyl Diaries, the answer is about 25 years. This means the Challenger explosion is now fair game but it’s still too soon to make that Hurricane Katrina vampire movie some of you have probably been considering.
Chernobyl Diaries actually starts from a pretty decent premise. Six tourists in Russia stumble upon Yuri’s Extreme Tourism, one of those outfits that specialize in semi-dangerous outings like cliff jumping and storm chasing. Yuri brings the group to the deserted nearby town of Pripyat, where radiation levels have become relatively safe. But as the sun goes down, they discover that Pripyat isn’t as abandoned as they thought. Packs of wild dogs…and something else…are getting ready to strike.
It’s fair to say I approached this movie with low expectations. It was written and produced by Oren Peli, the man responsible for Paranormal Activity, a movie which I absolutely hated. On the plus side, Chernobyl Diaries is not a found-footage movie, although it does incorporate some briefly. That gimmick has grown increasingly stale, so it was actually kind of refreshing to see a movie that was nicely shot. Director Brad Parker gets a few good jump scares in and establishes a fairly creepy atmosphere.
The movie’s biggest problem is that we never get a good look or even a very clear idea about what exactly it is that’s after our hapless victims. We get a few hints that some of the wildlife has mutated but that’s about it. Maybe this was done so it didn’t seem like they were exploiting the real-life victims of Chernobyl but they kind of are anyway, so they’d might just as well commit to it. And just when it seems like things are about to get interesting, the movie comes to an abrupt halt with an incredibly stupid ending that makes virtually no sense.
Warner Home Video gives Chernobyl Diaries the combo pack treatment including a Blu-ray, DVD and UltraViolet digital copy. It’s a good looking disc. As I mentioned, it’s kind of surprising how well the movie was photographed and the Blu-ray captures it nicely. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is remarkably restrained, using the surround channels very sparingly. There aren’t many extras but you probably won’t mind. The alternate ending would have been better than the one they actually used if they’d elaborated on it a bit more. As it is, it’s more like an idea for an ending than an actual conclusion. The other deleted scene is so short that it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference if it had been in the movie or not. You also get a couple of viral marketing videos for Yuri’s Extreme Tourism and the alleged Chernobyl conspiracy. It’ll take you less than 10 minutes to watch and forget all the extras.
Chernobyl Diaries isn’t the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a bland, forgettable thriller that could have been a lot better if it had been fleshed out. You won’t hate yourself for watching it but you may wonder why you bothered.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke