Horror fans are abused by the movie industry; they always have been. From the advent of the grind-house in the sixties to the desaturated formula laden movies of the present, the horror audience classification has evolved from deviants to the more placid identification of an indiscriminate horde. The genre that the industry once dismissed as unethical and pornographic has moved from banishment to something worse, the lifeless, cliche money grab. In the land of theatrical distribution, horror has been pushed into the dark recesses of the release schedule in an attempt to pick up some quick cash from a sect of the audience they know will plop down money to see a “horror movie”. Need proof of this? I bring you Chernobyl Diaries, the latest release by Oren Peli.
Chernobyl Diaries follows four young people as they adorably, through a saccharin fueled montage, travel across Europe. On their way to Moscow, they make the decision to take a detour to the abandoned, radioactive city of Pripyat, because who wouldn’t? This is the first in a long line of cliched, bad decisions. Especially grinding is Paul(Jonathan Sadowski), the big brother who can go from manic to sniveling in a single take. While he fuels the majority of the completely ridiculous decisions, the rest of the group has there share of grating traits that eventually leads the audience to gladly anticipate each of their eventual deaths.
That is what is so offensive about Chernobyl Diaries. It isn’t the tropes, the lapses in logic, or even a CGI bear who enjoys apartment living. It is the complete laziness, if not disdain, it shows the characters of the film. Each sequence builds toward something, but that something is a total lack of tension and a near hatred for everyone on screen. You can’t feel tension or fear towards a movie that is filled with unlikeable characters that slip further and further into danger through idiotic decisions that even the least rational among us would question. When the audience loses any sympathy for the people on screen, there are no stakes for the movie to raise. The whole thing just becomes a tired exercise in bloodlust.
Like many horror fans, found footage has worn on me. It can be done well, but it can be butchered way more easily. Despite a few sequences, Chernobyl Diaries is not a found footage movie. I assumed, walking into the theatre, that this was a good thing. What was surprising, though, was halfway through this movie I found myself wishing it would have been filmed as found footage. This is not to say that it would have fixed the problems, but the disjointed, ridiculous string of events could have been explained away by amateur, handheld, camerawork. Found footage doesn’t have to make as much sense as a traditional narrative, because it is sold as actual disjointed, captured footage. Plot holes are explained away by one of the characters forgetting to hit record. As an audience we can take much larger leaps of logistical faith with found footage, and Chernobyl Diaries demands monumental leaps in that particular area.
What is really upsetting, though, is that Chernobyl Diaries will make money, the studio will be affirmed, and we will get a Chernobyl Diaries 2. When legitimately great horror films such as Lucky McKee’s The Woman, Ti West’s The Innkeepers, and Hallam and Horvath’s Entrance are pushed to the edges of the distribution spectrum while the multiplexes distribute The Devil Inside and now Chernobyl Diaries, the horror genre is broken. Some will suffer because they know better, others will suffer even more because they will never have the opportunity to. Take a stand, do the horror genre a favor. Go rent Entrance this weekend and skip Chernobyl Diaries. Future generations will thank you.