Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Chernobyl Diaries</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, April 2013) I’m all for minimalism in horror films: Oren Peli (who produced Chernobyl Diaries) did wonders on a shoestring budget with Paranormal Activities, and part of that film’s effectiveness depended on restraint and a willingness to go back to basics.  Sadly, Chernobyl Diaries manages to mishandle nearly every asset that could have run in its favour, starting with the idea of stranding young Americans in the hostile post-apocalyptic setting of Pripyat, the Russian city famously abandoned after the neighboring Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster.  The scenery is interesting while the plot set-up remains familiar.  It’s what follows after the expected “stranded in the middle of nowhere!” plot beat that gets more and more tedious.  Things go bump in the dark, mysterious sights and sounds reinforce the idea that something awful is out there… and so what?  The scares are elementary in a way that feels dull, and as the annoying characters make dumber and dumber decisions, it quickly becomes apparent that few will mourn their inevitable demise.  The menace surrounding them is never clearly defined (whatever throwaway explanations are thrown around at the end are severely underwhelming) and even allowing for the short film’s slow-burn setup, Chernobyl Diaries feels too flat to be interesting.  Dull dialogue, flat cinematography, stock characters and shaky cameras don’t add much.  (The bear scene is good, through.)  It’s too bad that they couldn’t have done more with the initial idea.  Some of the last scenes, as frustrating as they are in their obstinate refusal to reward viewers, suggest a much better film.

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