Chernobyl Diaries (2012)


Chernobyl Diaries PosterDirector: Bradley Parker

Release Date: May 25th, 2012 (US); June 22nd, 2012 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Thriller

Starring: Devin Kelly, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski

When does the term ‘B movie’ become an excuse rather than a justification? Somewhere, surrounded by low-budgets and gooey prosthetics, Roger Corman has an answer to that particular musing. Chernobyl Diaries veils itself as a B movie with its microscopic financials and horror genre tidings, yet it relents from purveying the ingenious soul of said cinematic crop. Director Bradley Parker manages to conjure up an ominous mood — the setting, if you hadn’t already guessed, is Chernobyl — and his primarily indie cast run with the creep-factor for a while, however they ultimately can’t overcome a dreary screenplay that succumbs to the generic scare code. Radiation levels might be increasing, but imagination is struggling to level out from a downward spiral.

Midway through their travels across Europe, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and tag-along Amanda (Devin Kelly) decide to stop off in Kiev to congregate with Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski). Living up to his brash reputation, Paul suggests that the group should take up some extreme venturing, to Pripyat, an abandoned village on the edge of the radiation-infested Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Upon arrival though, it appears that their ghost town is anything but.

It’s this particular setting from which all of the film’s success emits. Though events aren’t shot on actual location — production took to Hungary and Serbia due to the issues posed by surrounding levels of radiation in Chernobyl — Morten Søborg’s cinematography still manages to capture the inevitable haunting of a post-disaster scene. Makeshift Pripyat is like an eerie still-life painting without the life as it languishes in a wonderfully spooky state of urban decay. Hand print markings are shown painted on walls, created by urgent escape and presumably made of blood. Shattered picture frames represent lost livelihoods, the town having emptied in just two days.

Before we reach our destination there’s enough time for a stop off at an exclusion zone checkpoint where the travelling group incur the scathing stare of an intimidating military man as he circles their van to the sound of piercing strings. Not to mention, the occasional sighting of a radiation warning sign. What we see might not be the real Pripyat in the shadow of Chernobyl, but it sure feels that way; the landscape appears genuine, the remnants of nuclear disaster still lingering in the air and therefore, as our bunch of explorers begin their tour, an authentic sense of danger exudes. The horror narrative is armed with instant credibility, edgy and real, but this sadly turns out to be only the film’s only credibility.

Suggestion is often worse than implementation. Implying that something terrible is about to happen or that there could be a spectre lurking in the wings can, and regularly does, induce a great deal of fear. The faux-Chernobyl location provides a disquieting assist that isn’t capitalised on, much to chagrin of the audience, we being an expectant mob after the film’s promising start. Instead of revving the already unsettling mood, Bradley Parker encourages a steadfast meandering towards convention. People are chased by hungry dogs and figures appear in windows, but it’s nothing that hasn’t failed to scare us before. Proceedings never leave ground level and, with the exception of a rumbling animal appearance, fail to truly frighten. Sure you might jump once or twice, but these heart-racing moments have a lazy source. Shattering silence with a loud noise will always naturally create a cheap reaction. Doing so on film is eternally unimaginative and a problem in modern horror.

Speaking of contemporary cracks in the genre, Chernobyl Diaries is as guilty as any when it comes to less-than-average characterisation. The screenplay, written by Paranormal Activity architect Oren Peli and brothers Shane and Carey Van Dyke (of that bloodline), parades characters who collectively boast less of a dimension than a horizontal line. There’s the sensible one Chris, played by musician Jesse McCartney, whose wariness about the Pripyat expedition is an apprehensive foreshadowing of what is to come. His brother Paul is the inciter of mischief, and it just so happens that he manages to get his sibling into yet more trouble — this time though, it might be terminal, so best get some moral repenting done, eh?

Paul is played by Jonathan Sadoswki and both he and McCartney do a decent job at handling their poorly-written characters. In fact most of the remaining cast members are also fine, but they’re also forced to join the aforementioned duo in shilling a dead horse. An exception could be made for Dimitri Diatchenko who plays iffy outing guide Yuri, and who rattles off every line as if he’s reading directly from an exposition-laden script: “We’re now entering the exclusion zone.” It’s highly probable that Diatchenko is indeed an extreme tour leader moonlighting as an actor for one time only. (Turns out he’s been in everything from Indiana Jones to Family Guy.)

Chernobyl Diaries wishes to garner the cult notoriety of a B movie but, in the end, its foundations aren’t sufficiently durable. The set-up arouses an eerie mood prompted by location and is promising. However, this is merely a superficial canvas that fails to disguise the remaining descent into a lack of ingenuity. Truthfully there ain’t a whole lot to say about this, which is the fundamental problem.

It tries to combine the rubble of a fairly recent disaster and postmodern nuclear stigma with slasher scares and atmospheric nip, and it should simply be better.

Chernobyl Diaries - Devin Kelley

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Warner Bros.

V/H/S/2 (2013)


V/H/S/2 PosterDirectors: Various

Release Date: July 12th, 2013 (US limited) October 14th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Thriller

Starring: Various

If 2012’s V/H/S failed to capture the adulation of those brave enough to tough it out, then there’s not much hope for this follow up. A film as uninspired as the title shepherding it suggests, V/H/S/2 has five opportunities to succeed yet, more often than not, chooses to beckon forth eternal disappointment through dullness. In fact, only via the purposeful mind of Gareth Evans does this horror outing really imbue a horrifying tingle. Otherwise, a terminal sense of ‘been there done that’ seeps from the screen, so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking the segments in this piece are outtakes from the first film. Having been given a measly 20 minutes or so to showcase their talents, each of the seven directors (some segments are co-directed) ought to have vehemently lived by the mantra that denotes a maximisation of their minutes. Somebody inform the postal service because that memo certainly got lost in the mail.

Sewn together by a frame narrative identical both in execution and content to its visual sibling from the first film, V/H/S/2 relays four other slices of spook, apparently. To begin we see Clinical Trials, a ghost story that haunts viewers solely by way of its surprisingly lacklustre content. Next, A Ride in the Park combines the visceral sheen of The Walking Dead and District 9’s moral pickings, though would bite the proverbial hand off for either’s ingenuity. Safe Haven is the film’s saving grace, and there’s absolutely nothing safe nor graceful about Gareth Evans’ co-offering. Finally, extraterrestrials meet pyjamas in Alien Abduction Slumber Party, but this one just ain’t as fun as it should be.

Undoubtedly, the least effective short is actually the one that plays most often. Tape 49, as it is known, is like that annoying bout of buffering that occasionally interrupts whichever film you’re watching on Netflix, increasingly fuelling frustration upon third, fourth and fifth rearing. Directed by Simon Barrett, the Whac-A-Mole invariably shines a light on Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) and his partner Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott), a pair of investigators doing some — wait for it — investigating into the disappearance of a college student. Upon reaching his last know location, a run-down and darkened house, the duo come across a series of televisions emitting static and ushering forth video tape viewing. Implemented as an anchor for the rest of the film, Tape 49 employs the exact same scare (or not) tactics as those seen in V/H/S, rendering the short exhaustingly ineffectual. Already, the remaining segments are at a disadvantage as they first must overcome the lingering cobwebs of Barrett’s effort, before advancing with their own agendas.

Admirably, Safe Haven complies in this regard. Malik (Oka Antara), news crew in tow, enters the residence of an unorthodox Indonesian Cult whose leader, the ‘father’ (Epy Kusnandar), has a severe ethics problem when it comes to the treatment of his followers. Inevitably, events suddenly go awry as the brainwashed group’s true intentions are revealed. Alongside Timo Tjahjanto, director Gareth Evans unleashes a tenacious bloodbath that supersedes every other piece of the V/H/S/2 puzzle. The directorial duo are productive in their utilisation of the found footage concept, generating an uncomfortable air of chaos through the style’s incorporation. Beginning fairly tepidly, you begin to worry that Safe Haven will conform to the generic inequalities of what has come before, but it’s not long before the horror short explodes (literally) into a viscous Jonestown rehash, carrying eerie imagery and brutal immediacy. This is what The Raid would look like if it was a horror movie: violent, relentless and utterly bonkers.

Adam Wingard’s Clinical Trials succeeds in conjuring up ghostly figures, but nothing else. Wingard was the overseer to V/H/S’s version of Tape 49, but his previous experience in the genre does nothing to aid proceedings here. The director also stars in his own segment, as a man who has chosen to take part in a social experiment that sees his sightless eye be replaced by a recording device. Upon returning home post-operation, the man is unceremoniously haunted by a ramshackle bunch of manifestations. Rather than coming across as an efficient stand-alone horror short, Clinical Trials plays more like the opening of Paranormal Activity 6. Though the eye-camera is a neat ploy in avoiding the often impractical continuous use of a handheld camera, there ain’t much to be seen through its lens. Jump-scares don’t frighten, nor do any of the creepily intended figures — conversely, one resembles the twin girls from The Shining, and another is unquestionably the overweight garden zombie from Shaun of the Dead. At one point, a woman shows up requesting a beer. Nope, me neither.

The remaining two slices of horror pie are equally average. Eduardo Sánchez of The Blair Witch Project teams with Gregg Hale and together they offer A Ride in the Park, or, The Walking Dead-lite. After trading dialogue more grotesque in its shallowness than any of the limb crunching about to occur (“You ride that bike more than you ride me”), a cyclist gets bitten by a zombie and subsequently becomes one. There are a couple of noteworthy elements to this piece: the directors’ twist on the found footage point of view, and an intentionally hilarious exchange of glances between a trio of undead — though, this humorous moment does jar with the tone of destitute dread set throughout the entire film. Jason Eisener’s Alien Slumber Party is comparable in delivery to A Ride in the Park, but rather than zombies attacking people, it’s aliens. While the creatures from outer-space do proceed broodingly, the segment is hampered by way of a retreat back to outdated scares through loud trumpeting noises and reddish-green flashing lights.

V/H/S sprung from the horror basements of talented pretenders to Craven, Lynch and Romero’s dark throne, and is a justified piece of cinema in that regard. Despite boasting a similarly talented array of budding directors, V/H/S/2 suffers from an overabundance in sameness. The effort is clearly there and, technically, most segments are delivered with verve. However, only the duo of Evans and Tjahjanto have something substantial to offer. Put simply, it’s not enough.

V/H/S/2 - Safe Haven