Don’t know how most of you spent your Christmas o’ Gentle Visitors, but this wee Catgirl spent hers, as I’ve already posted about, watching goofy Horror movies with my sweetie and her family during our annual Holiday excursion. We all had a nice evening of thrills, chills, and bloody gory fun and….. after another week of busy personal stuff for your Favorite movie watchin’ Catgirl…. it’s time to finally review the second movie of our Christmas “double creature feature”, 2012′s “Chernobyl Diaries”. Silly Western Tourists…. dour Russian soldiers guarding a deserted city in a contaminated wasteland… and, last but not least …… radioactive cannibalistic Russian killer mutants…. I mean… what’s not to like?
Our simple synopsis goes like this: “Six Western tourists hire an “Extreme Tour” guide who takes them to the abandoned city of Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Despite being denied entrance by the soldiers guarding the site, the guide assures them he can still get them inside for a look and the foolish group trespasses into the forbidden ruins in search of thrills. During their illicit exploration of the seemingly empty ruins, they soon discover however, that they are not alone…”
This particular one was Adam’s pick of the DVD’s… after all what little boy wouldn’t want a movie with cannibal mutants…. even if his mom found the idea a wee bit much, Hehehe!! Thank goodness Sandra was a good sport… and so we got to enjoy all the creepy action together bringing back load of memories for me of lil’ Miyuki wanting to watch all the gory monster movies she could back in the day. I’m glad I’m able to share that now that I’m all “grown up and responsible”. (Yeah… right… cross my lil’ heart!! )
So… without further adieu let’s get right to it then and “Read On” to find out all the nasty details, shall we? Woo-hoo!!
Atomic mutants. Now this wee Catgirl’s seen those before…. waaaay, waaaay back in the day when lil’ Kittengirl Princess Miyuki was but a slip of a lass, genre director Wes Craven gave us the killer cannibal clan of inbred mutants that lurked in the old Nevada nuclear test site in 1977′s “The Hills Have Eyes”. It had some truly nasty stuff in it… even way back then…. and I was definitely NOT supposed to have watched it…. so of course that was one heck of a challenge to willful and stubborn lil’ me.
Ever since then… the idea of freaky weirdos living waaaay out in the middle of nowhere has been a staple of genre horror. Only thing better than homicidal inbred crazies….. and that’s radioactive mutant homicidal inbred crazies. Seriously… and this lil’ Catgirl has seen them all. Given that, I had already planned on seeing this particular film long before the kids decided to buy it for me for Christmas and I had some major hopes for it. Was I gonna end up disappointed? Nawwww…. good or bad I knew it was going to be be a hoot watching it with the kiddies…
Now our movie gets off to a pretty standard start as we get introduced to our little cast of characters. We get Chris (played by Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), along with their mutual friend Amanda (played by Devin Kelley). These guys are traveling around the tourist spots of Europe. Eventually they end up in Kiev, Ukraine, so they can visit with Chris’s crazy brother, Paul (played Jonathan Sadowski), before heading off to Moscow where Chris intends to propose to Natalie. Awwwww…. so romantic. ♥
Naturally, it isn’t long before you figure out that younger bro Chris is the steady reliable one in the family and Paul the disappointing screw-up always making Chris the fall guy that ends up paying for his mistakes. So, when he suggests that they all go on some dodgy “extreme tour” of the abandoned city of Prypiat conveniently located right next to the radioactive ruins of the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant….. Hmmmm? How could that end up going badly?
The tour guide Yuri (played by Dimitri Diatchenko) assures them it absolutely safe…. that he’s done this tour dozens of times without any problems… and so Chris caves to the will of the group, despite that lingering feeling that his brother is only going to screw it up again. (At least we hope so… otherwise their won’t be much of a story now will there?)
Setting out with the addition of a another couple doing the “backpacking around Europe” thing, Norwegian girl Zoe (played by “Cold Prey” heroine Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and her Australian boyfriend Michael (played by Nathan Phillips) our little group doesn’t expect just how “un” routine this particular outing will turn out to be.
Firstly the trip hits a snag when the AK-47 armed soldiers at the gate refuse to let them enter the “forbidden zone”. Seems there’s some sort of “routine inspection” going on and all admittance to the area has been suspended for the foreseeable future. Here our group should have bagged the whole idea and went on back to Kiev… but nope. Paul wants soooo badly to be the “big man” and show his bro just how he rolls here in his new life in the former Soviet Union. He’s just itching to show he’s not the screw-up anymore…. that he can actually handle himself. So he talks Yuri into sneaking them inside despite the risk of arrest or whatever… through the secret “backdoor” route he knows to still pull off the tour. What an idiot….
The tour seems safe enough… with lots of prowling around the deserted “ghost city”. This… while not the scary adrenaline surge of the last reel, is none the less this wee Catgirl’s favorite part of the film, capturing perfectly the odd, eerie… emptiness… of what the real Prypiat is probably like. I’m not certain where it was filmed… somewhere in the post Soviet ruins of Hungary or Romania or the like. In any event…. this may not be what the real place looks like today, but it certainly looks just the way this wee lady pictures it in her mind.
Now… given that there really is such a place in the world, and it was the site of perhaps the most catastrophic nuclear disaster in the history of nuclear power there’s always going to be some people that won’t like the idea of a film like this one being made at all. Those people just don’t “get it” and this film wasn’t made for them. It’s not “disrespectful” of the victims… it’s not “perpetuating a stereotype of the failures of communism”…. it’s not “sensationalizing the pain of the survivors”… it’s just a horror movie. That’s all. Nothing more…. People going all nuts about those “problems” with a film like this being made 26 years after the disaster forget that the Japanese…. only 11 years after the intentional Atom bombing of not one, but two of their major cities…. made 1954′s “Godzilla”, taking their fear and horror of those terrible events and giving them their own archetypical personification for the screen. Horror is like that… and the best horror plays off real fears, real tragedies, and real monsters to do just that.
Mind you…. “Chernobyl Diaries” isn’t the equal of Ishirō Honda’s classic Kaiju classic, but if you want to fairly review it as a film, then you have to leave the “politically correct” baggage by the door and look at the film for it’s own merits and it’s own flaws. I’m just sayin’….
So… where were we? Ahhh yes. By now you’ll have figured out that “Chernobyl Diaries” isn’t going to go anywhere surprising or new. It’s just not that kind of horror movie. What we are getting is that same stale old story you pretty much saw coming waaaay back when we were introduced to our group. That’s a shame, because the setting here is just sooooo well portrayed and filmed to give you the real sense of dread and decay that having no characters to really become involved with is a pity. Worse… once the unseen lurking cannibal freaks begin to stalk our group… sabotaging their van and stranding them amid the ruins, I can’t honestly say I gave a damn about whether any of them would actually make it out alive.
The last half of the film moves along at a more frenzied pace, and the expected plot elements all happen right on cue. Paul screws-up and gets his little brother munched on by a pack of feral dogs and then one by one the rest of our group gets slaughtered…. by the mutant human inhabitants or by the feral mutant animals also creeping about the ruined city. We figure out that these people are the crazed original survivors of the city… dragged away and imprisoned by the authorities, too crazy, freaky and mutated to be acknowledged even with the fall of the Soviets. Somehow they’ve escaped from their captivity and returned to the only home they remember with the Ukrainian army searching for them before word of their existence leaks out to the world. Ummmmm… but our little group knows about them… so you know that even if the mutants don’t eat them they are still royally screwed once the troops arrive to”save them”. Yes, gentle visitors… that means there won’t be any survivors by the time our story wraps up. D’ohhh!!
So how do I rate this one? Sadly… as a horror film, I have to give it only a barely earned 3 “Meows” out of 5. It’s a bland and derivative story filled with a crowd of basically cardboard characters I found I couldn’t root for. It escapes being 2 “Meows” by virtue of that previously mentioned wonderfully realized setting. That the filmmakers got perfectly. Our crumbling city looks right. It looks like it should be a deserted ruin inhabited by contaminated boogymen. It’s a very real, very depressingly eerie place.
However…. for all of that I still can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this film. Much of that was the guilty pleasure of sharing the experience with my sweet Carolyn’s niece and nephew and their family. I truly liked being able to watch an honest to goodness monster movie with them and it brought back lots of fond memories of my own childhood movie watching. Back then I’d done the same sort of thing on “Movie Nite” with my Grandma who always cringed at the scary parts and was so bewildered when her lil’ granddaughter would scream with glee at those same scenes. If you have similar memories, then this one might be just as much fun…. if not, the good thing is there’s always another scary movie coming along ready to give it a try.
The Region 1 DVD is nothing special, presented in letterboxed NTSC format for right around 10-15$US should cannibal mutants be your thing.
And of course… there’s a Trailer…. there’s always a Trailer.