Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Russian Mutants Chase Privileged Americans, or I Watched Chernobyl Diaries, So You Don’t Have To

Produced by Oren Peli of the Paranormal Activity (2007, and boy do I still hate Micah so much) franchise, Chernobyl Diaries (2012) follows a group of young Americans in Russia who, along Yuri, their ex-special forces tour guide, decide to explore the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, deep in the Ukrainian forest.  It’s a radioactive 80’s Soviet ghost town, much like Roanoke Island or the Mary Celeste, but unlike those mysteries, we know exactly why these people evacuated Pripyat.  After a jump scare from a radioactive bear they return to find their van sabotaged because they’re not alone, but you knew that as well.  Events escalate as they’re savaged by mutant wolves straight out of a Resident Evil movie and finally get to meet the remaining Chernobyl residents.
It’s an almost mythological premise, a haunted forest with a sci-fi origin, wrapped around historical events, but it does seem insensitive as you know very well that there are actual Chernobyl mutants and long range effects including radioactive wolves, birth defects in livestock, and long-term health consequences for the surrounding population.  You can almost gain a new appreciation for the American backwoods cannibal mutant families in movies like Wrong Turn (2003) or the gold standard, Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977) for surprisingly having more sensitivity than this film.
Thankfully not a found footage film, Chernobyl Diaries does employ similar POV shaky-cam techniques to keep the viewer in the action and (minimally) invested in the characters.  However neither the filmmakers nor the characters in the film appear to have any respect for Chernobyl or the historical circumstances, as if this town exists simply as fodder for another Instagram post, FaceBook update or a YouTube video.  And without that precious audience sympathy, we as an audience will naturally gravitate towards the mutants, who are in shadows and off camera for most of the movie.  It makes for a confusing and disappointing experience, and Chernobyl Diaries currently holds a rating of 18% on Rotten Tomatoes.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).