With HBO’s Chernobyl getting some attention, I thought I’d drag this review out of the vaults-MZNJ
Chernobyl Diaries tells the story of a group of six twenty-somethings who sign up for a shady tour of Pripyat, a city outside Russia’s infamous Chernobyl reactor, where all the workers lived with their families. The city is still abandoned…or is it?
Despite the novel set- up, Diaries becomes very routine once our young adventure seekers become trapped in the city with whatever is lurking there. Despite some reasonable competence behind the camera by director Brad Parker, the film never generates much suspense or tension, as we know what’s coming and even the jump scares were familiar enough to not have much effect. The photography is spooky and it helps give it a bit of atmosphere, but the two dimensional characters never give us a reason to care and the film follows a time worn blueprint for this kind of flick. Add to that a very odd and unsatisfying end that doesn’t help either.
Chernobyl Diaries isn’t the worst horror, but it’s lazy in that it takes it’s unique setting and places within it a very unoriginal story and does nothing interesting with playing it out. It’s as if the filmmakers felt that the creativity with the initial idea of setting a movie in that desolate area was enough to carry the whole film. It’s not. They could have at least given us some shocking gore. They don’t even do that, as the kills are off screen and the carnage is barely shown. Flick is written by Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke and stars Olivia Taylor Dudley, who later went on to star in The Vatican Tapes and the final Paranormal Activity flick The Ghost Dimension.
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Yet another exorcism horror that tells the story of Angela Holmes (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension‘s Olivia Taylor Dudley) one of the demonic cases being investigated by the Vatican. Angela was doing a blog article on the biblical story of the Antichrist and soon started to exhibit disturbing behavior. Convinced there is something demonic involved, a local priest, Father Lozano (Michael Peña) contacts his superiors at the Vatican to join the fight against what might possibly be the Antichrist itself.
On the positive side, director Mark Neveldine (The Crank flicks) does give this horror some atmosphere from Christopher Borrelli and Chris Morgan’s story and script, but the film is so cliché and gets so overblown by it’s last act, that he accomplishes little with it. We get every exorcism scenario in the book from dive bombing black birds, to the demonic voices speaking in another language, to contorting limbs from our victim. The film delivers nothing new nor uses the familiar tropes in a fresh or interesting way, so the film fails to get our attention. When it is revealed in the last act that Angela is the embodiment of the Antichrist itself, it just feels overblown and silly. The exorcism attempt by Lozano and Vatican Cardinal Bruun (Peter Andersson) is tired and by the numbers and our open ending implying apocalyptic doom just makes us roll our eyes instead of hide them behind our fingers. It’s all been done before and quite a lot recently, so it is just routine and un-involving. The film lacks any of the energy of Neveldine’s Crank movies and it could have used some to wake us and the tired story up.
The cast is actually pretty good. Leading lady Olivia Taylor Dudley tries hard to look and act possessed and evil and if she were in a better film with better dialog we might have appreciated her efforts more. Peña is likable and solid as Father Lozano, but it is a cliché role as is Andersson’s Cardinal Bruun. Dijmon Hounsou appears briefly as a very concerned high level Vatican official and is also solid in a small role. Dougray Scott is a bit overbearing as Angela’s military dad, but that basically is the character. Rounding out is John Patrick Amedori as Angela’s boyfriend and Kathleen Robertson as Angela’s psychiatrist, while she is locked up for her increasingly violent behavior. Both their roles are fairly stereotypical.
Not much to recommend here. The film is of a subject that has become very routine in horror recently and done in a way that doesn’t freshen it up or make it interesting. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before and tells a story oft told and told better. It has a good cast and a little atmosphere, but it’s not enough to recommend one sit through it.
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I’ve enjoyed the Paranormal Activity series and while I admit it was starting to show definite signs of running out of gas with the much-maligned part 4, there did seem to be a bit of a second wind with the fun spin-off, The Marked Ones. Now we get Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, which is being sold as the series finale, but really doesn’t answer any more questions than the previous entries and doesn’t really make good on some of The Marked Ones‘ promise.
This entry takes place at Christmas time at the home of the Fleeges family. We have Ryan (Chris J. Murray), his pretty wife, Emily (Brit Shaw) and their adorable little girl Leila (Ivy George). They are joined by Ryan’s recently single brother Mike (Dan Gill) and pretty blonde “Auntie Skyler” (Olivia Taylor Dudley), whose actual relationship with the family is never really clear (Emily’s sister?) other than to provide exposition and look hot in Daisy Dukes. They discover a box with an old video camera and VHS tapes, in the house, which reveal young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristie (Jessica Tyler Brown) from Paranormal Activity 3. Upon watching these tapes, they observe some bizarre cult activity with the two girls and strange things begin to occur in their own home. The camera can apparently pick-up ‘spirit photography’ (as per our lovely Auntie Skyler) and Ryan begins to see strange things floating around the house. The activity seems to be focused on Leila and as the activity grows and Leila’s behavior begins to change, the Fleeges begin to fear there is something dark and dangerous in their home…and evidence indicates they have been targeted by something sinister. Somebody call an exorcist!
Series editor Gregory Plotkin directs from a story and script by no less than five people. While he actually doesn’t do a bad job for his first outing, the script doesn’t really give him that much new to work with till the last act, and while that adds a few new wrinkles, it doesn’t come close to providing a satisfying finale. Odd that five people working for two years couldn’t come up with anything more then basically just another installment. The spirit camera gimmick looses it’s novelty quickly and since our imaginations can concoct far worse than any FX technician, demon “Toby” is reduced to just another CGI phantom that has become all too common in this digital effects age. He’s not that impressive now that he’s been outed and we are no longer as afraid of him. At least in previous entries we never knew where he would strike from next. Here we can see him coming. Plotkin does give us some legitimate tension and chills, but the movie really doesn’t go too far from where any previous entry went and when we finally find out what the witch coven “The Mid-Wives” want, it’s basically nothing that the demon/exorcism movie of the week hasn’t done before. There is some cool stuff with the dimension portal introduced in Marked Onesand some fun use ofPA3footage, but the film seems to only casually address elements in the last two films with throwaway lines and even uses that same approach with a major character, leaving her fate a loose end. Even the climax leaves us at a point where there is obviously more to the story, so, as a finale, this feels far from final. The usual complaints are still here, too. Such as, why don’t they ever put the camera down, even when in danger and why don’t these people seem anything more than moderately curious when discovering there is a demonic entity stalking their child…and did no one think of Windex-ing the demonic symbols said child drew, off the wall? She’s continually allowed to sleep in a bed surrounded by writing that has been identified as demonic in nature. Bad parenting indeed! Suffice to say, characters do not behave logically or practically as the film progresses and we wonder if “The Mid-Wives” indeed made the right choice as this clan seems to be walking right into their sinister plot perfectly…and with predictable results.
The cast were fine and at least the characters where likable. Murray is fun as dad Ryan who is quite fascinated at first by the camera, tapes and odd goings on. The script doesn’t have him or anyone else as scared or concerned as they should be, but that’s not the actor’s fault. Gill is amusing as Ryan’s goofball brother and provides the comic relief, which is welcome at times. Ivy George is adorable as little Leila and escapes annoying child syndrome, so, we like and care about her. She does good work for a tyke. The Paranormal Activity series continues the tradition of hot mom’s and good-looking supporting characters with Brit Shaw’s pretty girl-next-door mom Emily, who seems a little more concerned about the lurking demon than her husband, and Olivia Taylor Dudley (also seen recently in The Vatican Tapes) whose character’s purpose may be questionable, but she’s hot, so we’ll tolerate it. We also get familiar faces such as Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown and Hallie Foote returning as young Katie, Kristie and Grandma Lois respectively. Notice anybody missing?…grrrr!*
Didn’t hate it, but it is a big disappointment for those looking for a solid finale and tied up loose ends. New director Gregory Plotkin doesn’t do a bad job but is working from a script compiled by five people and it does teeter on the edge of mess at times. The flick has a few new wrinkles that are amusing enough but falls back on familiar series tropes and makes a bit of a mistake in revealing its series villain as just another CGI spook, after five films left him to our own overactive imaginations. There are…as usual with this series…just as many loose ends as there are questions answered, leaving the door ajar in case this makes a boatload of cash and Toby returns once more.
*As a personal gripe, how can you end a series without its lead character (aside from Toby) is beyond me. Boo!
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) spooks…it earns a few ‘hottie in Daisy Dukes’ extra points.