Dear diary, Last night I ate dinner off a roach coach, met a beautiful girl with amazing eyes, and almost wetted myself watching a scary but by-the-numbers horror movie.
This is another review where I will be in disagreement with most of the other reviewers out there. Most of them can’t seem to find a score low enough to give this film, but as a horror movie I can honestly say I spent most of the movie honestly scared. Sure, it was a pretty rote rendition of a traditional horror movie, and there were any number of problems I will happily dump on in a few lines, but if you use how frightened you get as your horror movie barometer than I can honestly say this one succeeded pretty well.
The Chernobly image, from Hot Tube Time Machine, comes to us courtesy of the Movie T Shirt category.
One of the main issues I had, however, was the fact that the director couldn’t decide if he was doing a found footage film or a classic film. The camera had all the gremlins that plague found footage: jittery, nausea inducing movement; horrible out of focus shots; bad lighting; stunted story and character development; and an editor that seems to feel he is paying for cuts out of his own pocket. However, it had none of the benefits of the found footage genre: a sense that you are in the scene operating the camera; the occasional fourth wall breaking mirror or camera passing shot that makes things seem more real; or the understanding that when the final scene cuts out it’s because the the camera man just got impaled on a length of rebar, not because they just ran out of things to shoot. (If you want to see what I am talking about in all these watch Trollhunter, a great Norwegian film (By the way, just as an aside a movie is not automatically good just because it comes from Norway. I recently saw Norwegian Ninja and I’ve never seen a movie that looked more like dog vomit before))
SPOILER ALERT: I will be throwing in some spoilers here so if you hate them maybe skip ahead to the summary paragraph. One of the other big issues I had with this movie is the kids in it are being stalked, hunted, and chased by…something? Mutants? Animals? Aliens? Crazy humans? Supernatural creatures? C.H.U.D.s? It seems the producers didn’t want to have to pay for special effects, makeup, or extras with a face so they more or less skipped the whole “actually have something after the protagonists” phase. Even the reveal at the end of the film is both vague and underwhelming. What’s sad is the movie did an admirable job of ramping up the terror level through vague unease, dangerous but explainable attacks, through to full blown pee pee pants scary. However, in this horror movie formula at some point towards the end of the second act they are supposed to reveal the actual face of the horror. In this film they more or less exhausted the incredibly long list of excuses a film could use to never have a clear camera shot or flashlight shone into the enemies face.
The story plays out a lot like a survival horror video game, and in this case that game would be S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Cherobyl (I think maybe one of the reasons I like this film is I have always been partial to survival horror games over true horror). Six of the stupidest tourists in the history of tourism sign up for a totally legitimate Russian tour guide to take them on a tour of Pripyat, the radioactive town abandoned after Cherobyl melted down (where does one go in the Ukraine to get a tour guide permit to take tourists through radioactive wastes? I must say I’m impressed with the Ukrainian Tourism Board). They are turned away by guards but take a back country road that should have had signs marked “This Way to Your Impending Doom” all over it. They get to Pripyat (to be fair to this movie, it was shot on location and the scenery was really damned cool) and walk around taking pictures. They get almost bowled over by a bear and opt out, only to find that someone has cut all their wires in the van. At that point they have to spend the night in the van. They get attacked by what look like wild dogs. One gets injured and at that point the survival begins. The tour guide gets eaten by something so they have to split up to find help. Things go from bad to worse when they get chased by dogs, attacked by water somethings, and then by humanish somethings. The somthings pick them off one by one in typical horror movie fashion.
The stars. The location shots were pretty cool, until they decided the best things to shoot were barren concrete tunnels. One star. Aside from the dumb decision to actually take the tour, none of the protagonists acted in what I would consider a really stupid manner. They more or less did what I would have done. One star. The girls were all pretty hot, especially the brunette (Devin Kelly-Refrigerator, the Chicago Code, Anchors). One star. While the whole film was rote and by the book, I was honestly frightened at times and felt my pulse quicken often. Two stars. I kind of liked Uri the tour guide (Dimitri Diatchenko-Get Smart, G.I. Jane, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). One star. Total: six stars.
The black holes. Jumpy camera for no reason. One black hole. Stilted, flat performances all around. One black hole. Never revealing anything beyond vague hints about the bad guys. One black hole. The very stupid decision to take the tour in the first place (honestly, Mr. and Mrs Howell made a better vacation plan),and a very laissez faire attitude regarding the dangers of radiation and rad buildup. One black hole. Rated R but it honestly felt like it could have been PG-13 except for the language. Add more violence or nudity IMO. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A grand total of one star. Weird. I thought it would net out a little better than that. Once I get into the analysis I can sometimes be surprised. Worth seeing? If there is nothing else playing or MIB3 is sold out sure. Your blood will be moving. I’d day it’s on par with MIB, to be honest, but that’s because I found MIB to be painfully stupid. Date movie? Not really. I don’t think it’s jump out at you scary enough to get your date in your lap. I think is is a great one for watching while folding your laundry at home. Bathroom break? I can’t say there is any one scene really integral to the plot, so almost anywhere will do. However, try the scene where they are walking back to the van after the bear attacks or the scene where they split off and the kids are trying to avoid some dogs.
Thanks for reading. I have about 800 things to do today so will get going. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu or email me with questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you saw this film and want to make a comment feel free to do so here. Talk to you soon.