Life is hard.
Math is easy.
Not including algebra, calculus or any other numeric discipline longer than four letters, I’m inclined to agree with that statement. Life can throw you all kinds of unexpected craziness – even under the most mundane and seemingly predictable circumstances. Math, on the other hand, is fairly consistent. Two and two will always equal four – no surprise there. However, there are occasions where life imitates math when all the pieces of an equation add up to the same thing every time.
A model of such consistency is “Chernobyl Diaries”.
Written in part by Oren Peli (of “Paranormal Activity” fame), the film follows nice guy Chris (Jesse McCartney), his good-looking blonde girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), her attractive brunette friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) as they journey across Europe to visit Chris’ bad boy brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) who lives in Kiev. Sound like a lot of time for character development? Not really – it’s just the opening montage. Once they get to Kiev, we learn that Paul is a bit roguish and has the hot bananas for Amanda, who just broke up with her boyfriend and that Chris wants to marry Natalie (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s one hero couple with a side of two dead meats). Paul then convinces the group to take an “extreme” tour of the abandoned city, Pripyat, which was evacuated when the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl exploded. After another couple joins the party, they head out with their former Russian special forces tour guide to the city. But at the perimeter, they are turned away by soldiers. Not so easily deterred, they find another way into the city where soon, they find that they are trapped and hunted by something unseen.
“Chernobyl Diaries” is trite and disappointing debut from director Bradley Parker and I almost hate to say that because I strongly suspect it’s not his fault. The script, written by Peli, Shane Van Dyke and Carey Van Dyke (credits for the latter two include “Titanic 2” and “Mega-Python Vs Gatoroid”) is eye-rollingly ridiculous in spots and seemed like it would be better suited to a Saturday night slot on SyFy than a theatrical release. As with most films of this “caliber,” we are introduced quickly to the victims. They aren’t really characters because characters are more than just pretty faces covering a collection of tropes with no other development as the movie progresses. To coin an old phrase, they are simply born to die, wandering from situation to situation making the same stupid decisions you’ve seen in cut-rate horror since time immemorial. I’m not sure which of the three writers to pin that on but it reminded me a lot of Peli’s work in “Paranormal Activity”. While there was no script in that film, it was his hand that guided the actors in the characters’ behavior, similarly plagued by poor choices.
Aside from that, “Diaries” was nicely shot, making the most of the dour surroundings in Hungary and Serbia. The actors staked out the middle ground between good and bad and didn’t do anything to detract from the film.
In movie critic circles, when a movie is screened on a Thursday night before a Friday release, it rarely – if ever – bodes well for the movie. And when two of the screenwriters for a project seem to specialize in Made-for-TV drek, that likewise, is not a good sign. It was an unfortunate equation leading into “Chernobyl Diaries” and sadly, it’s the only thing that added up for it.