One of the innovators of the found footage genre returns with Chernobyl Diaries. Following the birth of the found footage film with Cannibal Holocaust, the genre was blown wide open in 1999 by The Blair Witch Project. In more recent years Oren Peli’s name has become the latest to be associated with the films after the release of his seminal classic Paranormal Activity. His latest produced film, Chernobyl Diaries treads similar ground and was released in the same week as the director of The Blair Witch Project announced his return to the genre with Lovely Molly.
A group of three young American travellers stop in Kyiv, Ukraine to pick up a fourth person who convinces them to go on an ˜extreme tour’ of Prypiat, the site of Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Initially refused access, the group (now including two Norwegian travellers too) are lead through an unmanned entrance to the town by their tour leader Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko). During a tour of an apartment block, the group are attacked and run back to their transport van, only to find the wires have been severed, leaving them stranded as night draws in.
Those expecting Chernobyl Diaries to be another genre-shaping production by Peli will be disappointed as he just treads over familiar, and clichÃ©d ground. Working on the same basis as a slasher horror, Chernobyl Diaries presents a group of two-dimensional stereotypes ˜wild one,’ ˜sensible one,’ etc. and systematically starts having them picked off by an unknown antagonists. As is often the case with a structure like this, it works to a point while the group is still large and there’s plenty of room for reaction. But as they slowly dwindle, so does the interest of the audience, resulting in increased reveals of the antagonists.
Not wanting to ruin the surprise of what is actually attacking the group (although it’s pretty obvious when you consider the title and location), it has to be said that there has been a lot of controversy about Chernobyl Diaries because of its use of Prypiat. Some have argued that using the Chernobyl disaster as a narrative thrust for a horror film is in incredibly bad taste. But let’s not forget that Michael Bay did exactly the same thing in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and only as a throwaway scene. At least Chernobyl Diaries draws attention to the actual plight of those who lived in Prypiat.
Always with an eye to intelligent horror film marketing Peli has created a backlash against the film before it even opened to garner increased publicity. The exploitative nature of using Chernobyl in the title is in poor taste, but then that is the point of exploitation cinema. It’s not meant to be nice, or even accurate and anyone who goes into Chernobyl Diaries expecting to see something in good taste is going to be very disappointed.
This being said Chernobyl Diaries has some decent scares and if you can get over the sometimes irritating handheld camera style it’s a solid, if unspectacular entry in the found footage genre.