Self­ish vic­tims are not worth caring about

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kather­ine Monk

I’M done with movies that ask us to fol­low a flash­light beam into faux fog for the bet­ter part of two hours. Even­tu­ally, you just get tired of wait­ing for the mon­ster to show up in the blurry half-light — if the mon­ster ever re­ally shows at all.

Some­times they do — and it’s dis­ap­point­ing. Of­ten they don’t, which tends to be even more of a let down if you’ve been ex­pect­ing a grand, ter­ri­fy­ing re­veal that never ar­rives.

The whole en­gine be­hind these movies is the del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween doubt and cred­i­bil­ity, and mak­ing your au­di­ence be­lieve what they can’t see is far scarier than any­thing they ac­tu­ally can.

It worked for The Blair Witch Project a decade ago. But pro­duc­tion de­signer turned di­rec­tor Bradley Parker has a much harder time cap­i­tal­iz­ing on a tech­nique that hit its stale date with the last round of Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity.

At­tempt­ing to de­liver a first-per­son style diary ac­count of a Rus­sian tour gone ter­ri­bly wrong, Parker sets up the story with ca­sual footage of young Amer­i­can tourists hit­ting the bars of Europe.

These scenes of goofy fun are sup­posed to pull us into the in­ti­mate cir­cle of Chris (Jesse Mccart­ney), his wouldbe fi­ancée Natalie (Olivia Dud­ley), his brother Paul (Jonathan Sad­owski) and sexy ad­ven­turess Amanda (Devin Kel­ley).

They are also sup­posed to lay down a frame­work of fa­mil­iar­ity, where we all feel safe be­cause things look recog-

Star­ring Jesse Mccart­ney, Olivia Dud­ley, Jonathan Sad­owski and Devin Kel­ley Kil­do­nan Place, Polo Park, Towne 86 min­utes 14A ½ out of five niz­able and civ­i­lized and we have the nor­mal­iz­ing force of a Mcdon­alds on ev­ery street corner.

We don’t be­lieve bad things will hap­pen to us un­der bright lights, or among crowds of peo­ple, so we can usu­ally hop aboard any hor­ror story that be­gins with peo­ple mak­ing de­ci­sions we, our­selves, might make in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion.

The hook in Ch­er­nobyl Diaries hap­pens in the first act as our four­some of fun­sters de­cide to take an “ex­treme tour” with Uri, a Ukrainian tour op­er­a­tor who boasts creepy tours of Pripyat, the aban­doned city sur­round­ing the in­fa­mous re­ac­tor that had a core melt­down a quar­ter cen­tury ago.

Though they’re all a lit­tle hes­i­tant about get­ting on the bus and driv­ing into a ra­dioac­tive ghost town, they con­vince each other it will be fun. Af­ter all, “why not see as much as you can?”

From the mo­ment they make this fa­tal and yes, fool­ish, decision, we’re forced to wait for bad things to hap­pen — usu­ally through the nar­row beam of a flash­light bulb.

On screen, this trans­lates into a lot of noth­ing mo­ments punc­tu­ated by brief scenes of de­sired shock and awe. It doesn’t work. Part of the prob­lem is we’re forced to wait too long. Parker spends a good 30 min­utes build­ing the sup­posed sus­pense, de­fus­ing ev­ery scare bomb along the way.

First, we sus­pect Uri may be a Rus­sian mob­ster who will kill the boys and sell the girls on the black mar­ket. Then, when that doesn’t pan out, we won­der if Ch­er­nobyl has be­come an Is­land of Dr. Moreau, where mu­tant an­i­mals are run­ning amok.

Cer­tainly, that’s the best bet for Ch­er­nobyl hor­ror, but out­side of a flesh-coloured snake-headed fish he of­fers up a scare at the end of Act 1, Parker doesn’t spend too much time con­jur­ing the ghosts of Cold War para­noia and mis­guided sci­ence.

He re­verts to the tried and true strains of — zom­bie genre.

As the en­sem­ble of young peo­ple — which now also in­cludes a cou­ple of back­pack­ers to up the body count — are dragged off one by one, the viewer is forced to em­pathize with stupid and ob­nox­ious char­ac­ters who scream all the time.

In or­der for these base­line ex­er­cises in sur­vival hor­ror to re­ally work, the char­ac­ters have to be smart. They must demon­strate skills or sym­pa­thy or some­thing emo­tion­ally re­deem­ing — oth­er­wise they’re not worth the stress fac­tor.

As a re­sult, when this band of mo­rons ig­nores the ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion, which was to push their bro­ken down army truck to a check­point to­gether as a group, they lose our em­pa­thy.

The lapse in col­lec­tive in­tel­li­gence makes the en­su­ing blood­bath eas­ier to watch, be­cause in the end, who cares about six self­ish peo­ple lost in the ra­dioac­tive waste­land hunted by pale­faced mu­tants?

WARNER BROS.

It’s hard to worry about Devin Kel­ley (from left), Olivia Dud­ley, Nathan Phillips, Jesse Mccart­ney and Dim­itri Di­atchenko.

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