Some movie genres have been around for so long that they inevitably become stale and repetitive. The same type and style of movie, offering the same sort of story and action. This can be said for everything from romantic comedy to period drama but no more so than horror.
In fact, you can tell its affected horror more than most because this genre goes through a reinvention more than any other. Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity gave us the Found Footage genre, Scream shone a light on the “rules of slasher movies” and Saw gave us the unfortunate “Torture-Porn” genre that has seemingly died away as well. Add to that the resurgence of ghost stories and possession and you have a genre that gives as many fresh, innovative ideas as it does regurgitated, repetitive ones.
It’s a shame that Chernobyl Diaries doesn’t quite know what it wants to do. Its got fantastic potential and some great ideas but they are all hampered by the same faults that most horror movies inadvertently suffer from. The positives hit you immediately, Chernobyl is a great location for a horror movie, its creepy, isolated and so much of its unknown but steeped in grim fact.
The style of the movie is good too. It isn’t quite found footage but had a much more gritty, hand-held quality. This meant you felt very close and claustrophobic, as if you were an extra character, but without having to restrict yourself with the rules that found footage movies abide by.
Even the actors are decent enough. There isn’t much for them to do but they have enough about them to hold the story together and act in a creepy and helpless way. The story itself may not be the most original but it holds together well and there are enough surprises throughout to add the customary jumps and screams.
It’s just a shame that there is little else on offer. A great location, decent direction and workable actors offers up little more than a standard horror movie. There is the usual peril and sense of danger throughout the film but this is nothing new. Characters are picked off, one-by-one, in a slightly random manner, much like any other horror film would do. It even wastes the setting, moving quite quickly past the Chernobyl setting and into the usual, dark, jumpy location we have seen many times before.
This is the biggest fault of Chernobyl Diaries; there is potential for a great story and believable threat. They are in a town which was deserted quickly and with little warning. Whatever is chasing and hunting them could be steeped in legend and back story. There is a great scene where three characters are cornered by a “monster” in a building. You never quite see it but the sounds and actions make it creepy and interesting. You want to see it and you want to be terrified by whatever it eventually is.
You never really see it though. You never get the proper payoff. There is a predictable end to the movie and a feeble twist to the whole affair but it lacks the big, horror battle finale that the film builds too. Its far too dark and too shaky when it comes to the moments when the most clarity is needed, the moments when we get to see whats been hunting our characters.
Overall, Chernobyl Diaries has a whole heap of potential but never takes the innovative, final killer step. Its got a great location, decent characters and is shot effectively but eventually becomes the same style of horror movie that we have seen countless times before. Its scary in places but when we never really get to see what is doing the scaring, you do begin to feel cheated and frustrated.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)