My friend and I have a regular evening Zoom movie watch, where we choose a film on Netflix or Amazon Prime then mute ourselves and both press Play at the same time.
Let’s be honest, it involves liberal use of the Chat function so we can share our shock, boredom, hastily-googled movie facts and of course terror – on a muted Zoom call, no one can hear you scream – and the Pause button, if one of us wants to make a cup of tea or a small child wanders into the room. (“I know him, he’s in Alvin And The Chipmunks!” said my 8 year old cheerily this evening, coming down from his bedroom, as an irradiated mutant went for its victim.)
The club is called The Good-Bad Film Club, and afterwards we have to decide whether it was Bad, Good, Bad-Good or Good-Bad. We’re not looking for high art, though we’re not looking for dross either – it just sometimes turns out that way.
We’re after ideas that didn’t quite work, overegged sci-fi, mutant animals, natural disasters, killer sharks, terrible poetry quoted by philosophical characters, dark tunnels, Jaws-esque mayors, churning seas and escaped viruses.
So far, Good-Bad Film Club watches include Geostorm, Crawl, Underwater, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Anaconda. Some are new to us, and some we are rewatching decades later, to confirm whether we really did see Jon Voight being vomited up by a snake and then winking at the camera.
Some of our films star Gerard Butler. Many of them don’t star Gerard Butler but are the kinds of movies Gerard Butler will pop up in once he’s too old to play Mike Banning.
Tonight’s choice was The Chernobyl Diaries, directed by Brad Parker and released in 2012. It seems to have been a pretty decent-sized hit, taking $37 million on a $1 million budget.
Tapping into the trend in the last ten years for urban explorers going deep into increasingly dangerous abandoned locations, the film is about six young tourists – Paul, Natalie, Amanda, Chris, Zoe and another bloke – who go on a trip to the deserted town of Pripyat in Ukraine. It formerly housed the workers from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant – once there, the group find mutant fish (yay!), wild dogs, a bear living in a tower block and eventually mutant people.
Their “extreme tour guide” is ex-Special Forces man-mountain Uri, but he’s no match for the radiation-soaked terrors that lurk there. There are strange shrieks in the night, very like the ones I hear on my evening dog-walks so I won’t be doing that again. The van is destroyed, there’s no phone signal, Uri is dragged away by something, and help is definitely not coming.
The Chernobyl Diaries is good for the first 35 minutes, and increasingly bad thereafter, when they run down a lot of tunnels and get attacked, rescued then re-attacked several times. Spoiler alert, everybody dies except the mutants.
Several of the young, hot actors look like the less famous siblings of extremely famous people: my friend Liz thought Chris resembled a young and preppy Matt Damon, I thought his brother Paul was Jake Gyllenhaal-lite. Uri even had a touch of the Gerards about him.
The location is eerie and sad, the growing unease and bickering between brothers Chris and Paul is well done, and Uri towers above – and to the sides – of it all. When it got dark I assumed he’d simply blocked out the sun with his muscly bulk.
And despite the fact that when they were refused entry by Ukrainian guards at the Pripyat checkpoint he drove them in the back way, I still hold him entirely un-responsible for the ensuing carnage mainly because the youngsters are so irritating. If we’re going to blame anyone blame Paul.
Considering the genuine suffering the disaster caused it’s an insensitive story. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker itself (lots of movies are insensitive!) but it doesn’t offer anything new to balance that out. I think I would have enjoyed it more if they’d simply been pursued by various mutant animals, like Annihilation but without the pretty flowers and deep thinking. Mutant fish can sometimes be enough! And by the end everything is being thrown into the mix, including a scary child and what looks like an underground operating chamber.
The Good-Bad Film Club rating
Well not only is it a movie that’s both bad and good, it’s also good but then descends into badness: making it most definitely a Good-Bad Movie.
Note: I’m an inveterate post-movie googler, though not everything I find out is cheery: Dimitri Diatchenko, who played Uri, died earlier this year aged 52.
The Chernobyl Diaries is available from:
Do you have suggestions for films that might fit the bill? Put them in the comments!