The nuclear incident in Chernobyl is one of the most unfortunate events in modern human history. It’s effects are far-reaching in terms of both distance and time, as the illnesses caused by radiation spread far and wide. Lest you confuse this with a Wikipedia entry that’s about as much as I need to say up front save that the Chernobyl incident is one I learned a great deal about and have a tremendous amount of sympathy for. Therefore, despite the fact that it’s rare, this was a film I was likely to be sensitive to in the horror genre. However, I went in hopefully, as horror cannot play it safe and I was rather surprised that this angle hadn’t yet been taken.
One of the few things I can happily report is that the film is not overly-exploitative. The deliberate pacing of it, the restraint it shows and the fact that it takes the point of view of a group of American tourists looking for an extreme locale make it much more palatable.
However, that is not to say it works entirely. The film works to about its midway point and then it starts to seriously degenerate into typically silly, dumb tropes that are only half-baked and highly illogical. Granted Hitchcock had a very valid point about feasibility, and it usually doesn’t come into play in horror, but what I mean is it seems the consequences of the exploration could’ve been greater and more logical simultaneously, so why not do that?
The set-up works very well and what’s more the acting is quite good. I speak frequently of acting when it comes to horror films because quite often it is not a prerequisite for this kind of film, or many actually, to have exceptional thespians to work on a narrative and technical level. However, this film has no weak-link that stands out in that regard. Particularly effective is Jesse McCartney, who not only plays the requisite Doubting Thomas but also spends a good deal of time injured. He is a talented actor who should be getting many more chances to show what he can do aside from being my favorite Chipmunk.
The film thankfully doesn’t take the found footage approach but there are a few unusual decisions visually. Some of them work well, some of them not so well. When the tour group is first threatened we watch the first search part go out from afar, see muzzle flashes, hear off screen noises but we eventually lose them. In a vacuum it’s an effective tactic, however, combining it with how minimal the rest of the film is it’s regrettable in hindsight. Towards the end there looks like there’s an incredible fight and struggle. The shame of it is I can’t see it because of the crazy handheld swish-pans and frenetic editing. The handheld camera in modern cinema is perhaps the biggest double-edged sword. Much vitality is added to action shots with the jostling that goes on, with the proximity that we get to the subject, but the pace of the edit needn’t be as frantic as the framing if we need to see something.
The climax of the film and the conclusion is so unsatisfying it nearly taints all that preceded it. Now, it’s is by no means The Devil Inside but perhaps this would’ve been a case where a few more incidents and a little less explanation would’ve made a bigger impact. The film falls close to over-explication than under and perhaps less truly would’ve been more here.
The Chernobyl Diaries simmers for a while and never really comes to a full boil, which in the end leaves it tepid and a bad taste in your mouth.