Chernobyl Diaries (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy) (2012)

Actors: Jonathan Sadowski, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Jesse McCartney, Nathan Philips
Director: Brad Parker
Writers: Shane Van Dyke, Oren Peli
Producers: Brian Witten, Andrew A. Kosove, Allison Silver, Alison Cohen
Format: AC-3, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: German (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: French, Spanish
Region: A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: October 16, 2012




I can’t think of a better real-world setting for a horror movie than Chernobyl: Frankenstein’s monster, post-apocalyptic wasteland and the biggest haunted house ever all rolled into one!

It represents a golden opportunity to expound upon our collective human folly, while scaring the pants off of us in the process. Unfortunately, the producers of Chernobyl Diaries chose to go the safe route instead, and generate yet another unconvincing found-footage story instead of the ripping scare fest they might have delivered. Considering that one of those producers (and a co-writer to boot) is Paranormal Activity guru Oren Peli, the utter banality becomes unforgivable.

Chernobyl Diaries starts off on the wrong foot by delivering a forgettable set of hunky young actors with no discernible personality to act as our surrogates. They’re tourists in Eastern Europe, who sign up for a tour of the infamous 1986 meltdown site. So right away, we’re calling their basic intelligence into question. It gets worse when they arrive on the site; they aren’t alone in the ruins, their van breaks down, and their guide soon gets eaten by person or persons unknown.

They respond more or less like Python Gumbys: ignoring easy solutions to their dilemma, refusing to use weapons at their disposal and poking around the ruins when leaving the site is the only real alternative. They might as well just fling themselves into the monsters’ maws, and their idiocy quickly eliminates any sympathy we have for them.

The monsters themselves remain nebulous for a large part of the film. They could be wild dogs, mutants, rampaging bears or Ukrainian coal miners for all we know . . . and none of the possibilities are even the least bit interesting. They carry no special qualities, and nothing about them stands out from the countless other horror movie threats we’ve suffered through over the years. Combined with the by-the-numbers heroes, it crushes any rooting interest we might have in the film.

That leaves only knee-jerk shocks, and there, at least, Chernobyl Diaries shows a little flair. It sneaks up on us periodically, and director Bradley Parker demonstrates a decent mastery of the technical details. But those simple pleasures run their course very quickly, leaving nothing but flailing clichés in their wake.

Perhaps most distressingly, Chernobyl Diaries cheats multiple times on the presentation level in order to amp up the scares. For instance, six hours of daylight time suddenly vanishes without warning – a period long enough for the characters to hike to safety or do any number of other things to help themselves out of trouble. The cut severely damages continuity, but also creates a threat without earning it: demonstrating as little regard for our intelligence as for its heroes.

This isn’t the only horror film to trip over its own shoelaces, of course, but that too robs it of any distinctive qualities. It squanders its terrific setting on another silly boo-gotcha exercise, without delivering even a handful of decent scares in the bargain. Its arrival on Blu-ray changes nothing, even with a much bally-hooed alternate ending included. The ending isn’t the problem . . . or rather, it’s not the only problem. You could make a drinking game out of counting them all: the only entertainment value this forgettable misfire can possibly provide.

THE DISC: It looks good, for all that that matters. The transfer keeps the film’s palate sharp and the audio clearly delivers all of the cheap jolts the filmmakers saw fit to include. The alternate ending fails to impress, and the other extra features rank little better: a deleted scene, a fake commercial for the tour guide and a viral video concerning the Chernobyl accident. The set also contains DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film.

WORTH IT? Not unless the basic concept of a horror movie set at Chernobyl serves as a selling point all on its own.

RECOMMENDATION: This has been a solid year for horror movies, with The Innkeepers, The Woman in Black and the brilliant Cabin in the Woods all available on Blu-ray. Chernobyl Diaries offers nothing to even begin to compete with its fellows. Why settle for this soiled tripe when you can get prime rib for the same price?


- Rob Vaux



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