Director: Bradley Parker. Alcon Entertainment/FilmNation/Oren Peli/Brian Witten. (15)
Producers: Oren Peli, Brian Witten.
Writers: Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke.
Camera: Morten Soborg.
Music: Diego Stocco.
Sets: Aleksander Denic, Matthew Sullivan.
Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Dimitri Diatchenko.
Four American teenagers embark on a tour of Europe and take in the standard sights and sounds. En route to Moscow, unofficial leader Paul (Sadowski) suggests they take the ultimate tourist trip to the abandoned city of Pripyat, vacated more than 20 years ago following the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Led by their guide Uri (Diatchenko) all goes well until their transport breaks down and the guide is killed by what seems to be a pack of dogs. But it soon becomes apparant they are not alone in this ghost town and the dogs are the least of their problems.
Modern horror ‘genius’ Peli is the maestro behind Paranormal Activity (noteworthy for being a horror movie filmed so cheaply that the budget didn’t stretch to including any thrills or scary moments) and wrote this film, which neatly piggybacks on the recent craze not for thrill seeking adventure holidays but for extreme tourism to areas either inhospitable, far out of the way or completely neglected.
The inspiration behind his admittedly interestingly set movie came from a photo he saw online posted by a girl riding through Pripyat on a motorbike. Rather cheekily, his film version was actually made on location in Serbia and Hungary, but we still get an eerily convincing impersonation from these other, former Eastern Bloc states.
There are some agreeably perky and terrified turns from the young cast, particularly Kelley as Amanda although a large amount of the film is consumed with the usual running around in the dark and moronic reasoning that teenagers in these sub-Blair Witch rip-offs engage in (surely American High Schools should now teach How to Survive Serial Killers and Getting Lost in the Wilderness classes alongside maths and science?).
What is criminally unforgivable though is how Peli and Parker combined are unable, or unwilling, to introduce even a modicum of shocks into their horror story.
There are a few jumpy moments and a bizarre shock when a bear interrupts them, but so much energy has been invested in dwelling on the unique and quite awesome place they have set their film, every other filmic consideration has been thrown to the wind. Off the bear, this is ridiculously forgotten about when it could have been easily reintroduced to scare us all some more. Character, wit, suspense, you name it, and it will probably have been left behind like your passport as you head off to the airport. Apart from the production design and camerawork that are uniformly excellent throughout.
The ‘Friends of Chernobyl Centres’ charity in the states criticised the film’s plot for being insensitive to those who died in the disaster and sensationalising events that had “tragic human consequences”. But it’s the paying public who should have been up in arms for spending their pretty dollars and trudging to their local multiplex to pour more cash into the producer’s coffers ($37m in global grosses on a $1m investment) to get so little satisfaction back.
If anything, at least it shows that Peli is a canny Hollywood operator who knows well enough by now that his cheap and cheerful, hastily cobbled together format will reap dividends for a few more years to come. Let’s hope an increase in profits eventually leads to more quality, rather than proving the law of diminishing returns.