History is my favorite subject – specifically the parts that are full of twentieth century wars and disasters – so when I see a new movie coming out with a historical connection, I get excited. Even if it’s a horror movie that’s made by the same guy who did Paranormal Activity (yawn). Even when it’s blasted by victims’ groups for being insensitive (never a good sign). Even when the trailers and blurbs make it sound kind of stupid.
Six tourists hire an extreme tour guide to take them to the abandoned site of the nuclear meltdown where they are stranded and set upon by murderous creatures.
If you have more than a single living brain cell, I think you can guess from the trailers and blurbs where the murderous creatures have come from. There was a small chance this movie wouldn’t be insulting (both to your intelligence and to the victims of the disaster) but now that I’ve seen it I can unequivocally say: not only is it stupid, but if I was a Chernobyl victim I’d be pissed off too.
There are ways that a horror movie could be made about Chernobyl without offending the people who were sickened or killed in the fallout from the reactor blast. For example, tell me if this sounds scary:
Preferably at some distance from the site. Like maybe from space.
As you’re walking around, you start to feel a little nauseous and you’ve got a headache. You’re also getting a sunburn, even though it’s cloudy out. You’re really thirsty and tired, so you sit down to have a drink. The lip of your bottle comes away red. Your gums are bleeding. You’re feeling hot and weak, so you decide to have a bit of a lie down. But when you remove your hat, clumps of your hair come away with it. Rushing to a mirror, you see that not only is your hair falling out, but your face is all blistered. You retch into the sink and it comes out bloody. By the time your friends miss you and send someone in to rescue you, you’re either dead or doomed to die of leukemia in a couple of months. And you’ve only been gone a few hours.
OMG! Real disease is really f-ing scary!
You see? Oren Peli didn’t need to populate his film with angry, murderous, shadowy, limb-ripping entities for it to be scary. You’d need those if you were just in an abandoned house or a sewer tunnel or something, but in Chernobyl, the town can kill you all on its own. In fact, adding the murderous entities only took away from the natural scariness of the town, since during all their running away, the characters pay about as much attention to their Geiger counter as they would to an oven timer.
Zees device, it will beep when ze muffins are ready.
And therein lies another problem with Chernobyl Diaries – it’s populated by extremely stupid characters. All horror movie characters make bad choices, at least at the beginning, which lands them in a mess.
Here’s an idea: let’s go to an irradiated town and fry our gonads.
But tourists Paul (Jonathan Sandowski), Amanda (Devin Kelly), and Natalie (Olivia Dudley) and their guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) are so extraordinarily stupid that it’s a wonder they can all dress themselves in the morning. Paul’s brother Chris (Jesse McCartney) and the two tag-along hippie types Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) aren’t much better in that they have a modicum of common sense but choose to follow the others’ ludicrous suggestions instead. In fact, if this group was real, they would all win Darwin Awards for their magnificently moronic choices.
I know! On our NEXT vacation, let’s go to a war zone!
Or tour a razor blade factory during tornado season!
As you might imagine, their astounding idiocy makes it very difficult to give a crap when their limbs start getting ripped off. You might even go so far as to say that they deserve it for being so stupid as to get out of their van in the middle of the night and run off into the woods or climb down into a dark, dirty basement with blood trails leading into it.
It would be tense, if only I cared about what happens to them.
They also have an almost magical ability to stumble across horrible things during their panicked flights, such as the remains their kidnapped friends, melted down nuclear reactors, and the lairs of the mysterious beings trying to kill them, even though we never really see the beings, even at the end, and have gotten bored waiting for them to show their faces already.
Yes yes, you’re lurking in the background. WE KNOW. Get on with it.
So let’s do a run down, shall we? Chernobyl Diaries is boring, has stupid characters, inspires no real tension, has no special effects, contains too many coincidences, is not scary, and is insulting to Ukrainians. I think you can sense where I’m going with this. Go watch something else.