I was originally interested in Chernobyl for its credits alone. Despite the stigma surrounding the Paranormal Activity trilogy, I remained a fan and was intrigued to see what the creator, Oren Peli, had to offer in another medium. But the story itself didn’t have enough flare. It seemed flat as a setting. I can understand the creep factor, but to me it just appeared like a ghost town, which is hardly uncommon. The beginning of the film confirmed this for me. We spent no time at all getting to know any of the characters put in front of us through a quick and shallow video montage. It felt as if they were zip lining us to the plot point and bypassing any time spent on character development. So when things start to turn, as they always do, I had trouble feeling frightened. That is, not right away.
Most of the set up you need to know for the film is in the trailer. One of the many pet peeves I have with films these days is their capability to spoil a whole movie just with their excessive and exposing trailers. They compile the most compelling scenes to hook you, but inevitably these are the same scenes used to prop the film on and so all the steam is lost. But I digress. When the car is purposefully sabotaged, the characters immediately panic, playing the heated blame game before coming up with some plan, which they decide is to waste daylight calling into a useless radio until it gets dark. That’s the first night. Beyond the archetypal pattern followed, Chernobyl eventually picks up enough to cause a stir.
The group scurries like ants from a squashed ant pile. With most movies filmed primarily in the dark, I’ve noticed filmmakers like to utilize obvious lighting to emphasize, at the right moment the, thing that will “scare” you. In a turn of events, whenever I was expecting this tactic, the lighting would remain the same, and whether you saw what you were supposed to see or not, didn’t carry the weight of the scene. Perhaps it was just as scary if you didn’t catch that moving figure. Which leads me to the foe of this tale. From the trailer you really had no clue what it would be. It was unfortunate but true that I was able to reveal to myself what the darkness was hiding, but being able to discern this early on didn’t take away like I thought it might. While withholding that information, I will say that as the carnage ensued I watched as heavy hints began to fall to make it even more evident.
Most horror films in this type of genre utilize the unknown as the driving force for terror. Then again the fear of the unknown is undoubtedly one of the strongest. So, as the pattern goes, the ending would leave us with many questions and loose ends that will go unanswered to follow us through the night until we manage to fall asleep with the light on. I can certainly appreciate this tactic when used appropriately. But it gets old. So Chernobyl offered us an ending that basically ended, which was a huge relief to me. I have no questions, nor qualms about any unfinished business (i.e. what about this person? Why did that happen?), but still manage to feel the tingle of paranoia on my back, imagining some shadowed unrelenting monster coming after me.