Tag Archives: Oren Peli

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.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Paranormal Activity</strong> (2007)

(In theatres, October 2009) Here’s a new rule in reviewing horror movies: Do it the next morning. Because it’s in Paranormal Activity‘s nature to lodge itself in its viewers’ brains in a tightly coiled memory loop that only unfurls once they’re defenceless in bed and exposed in the dark. During the film itself, Paranormal Activity isn’t much to look at: shot in seven days with a handful of actors and a budget of $15,000 dollars, it brings back memories of The Blair Witch Project (already celebrating its tenth year!) and a growing number of amateur HD films. But there’s nothing amateur in the way Oren Peli’s movie slowly cranks up the uncanny nature of is supernatural intrusions: From sounds to shadows to even more disturbing signs, Paranormal Activity tighten the screws so gradually that by the time the film hits its final chilling seconds, it’s easy to be completely engrossed in what’s happening. The two lead actors are believable, and the film milks a surprising amount of plotting from what is essentially a two-players piece. There are no jumps as much as there are chills, and the restrained number of disturbing images only makes them more effective. After seeing the horror genre sinking deeper into gross carnography during the past few years, it’s a refreshing to see a horror film go back to the stripped-down basics and become even more effective thanks to its lack of polish. Unlike a number of cheap horror movies making to theatres on extended word-of-mouth, Paranormal Activity actually deserves some of the hype. At least, if one considers how quickly and repeatedly it comes back to mind when trying to go to sleep…