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Thursday, June 7, 2012 11:41 pm

Eerie locale wasted in predictable Diaries

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I couldn’t help but feel that there were many wasted opportunities in Bradley Parker’s Chernobyl Dairies, a by-the-numbers horror film that features a genuinely eerie setting but little else. As written and produced by Oren, the script is a rote exercise that contains little in the way of innovation what with its standard premise and stereotypical characters. This is a bit of a surprise as the author’s Paranormal Activity film was able to breathe new life into the standard ghost story. Alas, no such revival is in the offing for the flesh-eating mutant genre with this generic effort.

The setting is the town of Pripyat, where the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor lived before the infamous meltdown occurred there in April of 1986. Six tourists, straight from central casting, have foolishly decided to tour the city as part of an “extreme tourism” excursion offered by former soldier and current opportunist Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko). The victims in waiting are Chris (Jesse McCartney), a cautious American who’s planning to ask his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley) to marry him, his older risk-taking brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) who’s eager to get to know their friend on the rebound Amanda (Devin Kelley). Deciding to join them at the last minute are Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Berdal), two young lovers who realize too late they should have stuck to the bus tour.

Parker does a fine job keeping things moving as the film clocks in at 88 minutes and manages to generate an ever-mounting sense of dread as the tourists and their guide travel to Pripyat, poke around the empty buildings and find their van has been rendered useless by something or somethings that lurk in the darkness. As darkness descends, the tension mounts and had the film adopted a Blair Witch approach, it might have proved unique.

Unfortunately, at about the 40-minute mark, you can tell that Peli ran out of ideas and freely consulted the “Horror Film Handbook,” borrowing every trope it contained as the film limps towards its conclusion. Soon, the group splits up to check things out, they get picked off one by one and we eventually get a glimpse of the horrible beings that are intent on ripping them to shreds. This is all done in a competent manner, yet a bit of innovation is needed to help elevate this above the standard horror fare. The only cliché that isn’t employed is that of a twist ending, though I can’t imagine what narrative turn could have been used. As I sat in the theater, I was hoping my sitting through this was all a dream but alas I was destined to be disappointed on that point as well.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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