Paranormal (Radio)Activity: 'Chernobyl Diaries'

Yes, this is another movie where suspense is shuttled aside for actors yelling at the top of their lungs and many meaningless things going much more than 'bump' in the Ukrainian night.

Chernobyl Diaries

Director: Bradley Parker
Cast: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelly, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Olivia Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko
Rated: R
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-05-25 (General release)
UK date: 2012-06-22 (General release)

Twenty-six years ago, in a small municipality named Pripyat in what was then the Soviet Union (now the Ukraine), the local business literally exploded. The village, created for the family and workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, was quickly abandoned with little advance warning. As Reactor #4 'became airborne' and started spreading hazardous fallout, a ghost town was created overnight. Families fled without time to take anything with them. Now, two-plus decades later, the eerie locale with its cinderblock ruins is an extreme tourism destination, the radiation levels low enough to allow outsiders in for brief periods of time - or at least, that's the premise of the latest from Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli. He has taken this intriguing backdrop and fashioned it to a sort of urban legend look at what...or who...might have been left behind.

Sadly, the answer is a bunch of nonsense. The software programmer turned fright franchise mastermind did indeed produce and co-author the promising Chernobyl Diaries, bringing newcomer Bradley Parker to aid in the scripting and directing. Avoiding the found footage conceit that made Activity the buzzed about blockbuster of 2007, we get a group of American tourists visiting Eastern Europe. There, they meet up with a mysterious ex-military tour guide named Uri and a couple of British backpackers. The idea - take a quickie tour of Pripyat before heading to Moscow. The problem - the supposed deserted area is apparently thriving with someone...or something...with an insatiable bloodlust and a desire to kill. Naturally, they all end up stuck there for the night.

As an idea for a horror film, it's not really new. Unsuspecting victims arriving somewhere that they shouldn't has long been a part of the genre dynamic. But with its unique backstory and cinematically fudged backdrop (Peli and friends couldn't film in the actual area), there is a great deal of potential here. Unfortunately, Chernobyl Diaries pisses away its possibilities early and often. Instead, we are forced to sit through endless minutes of 'character' before everything goes S&S - screams and shocks (you could add another "S" word to that as well, if you get the meaning...). Yes, this is another movie where suspense is shuttled aside for actors yelling at the top of their lungs and many meaningless things going much more than 'bump' in the Ukrainian night.

For a while, we don't mind the formula. We need something familiar to fill in the blanks Peli and Parker can't readily provide much more than that. We need the truisms, the fighting siblings (one's practical, the other's a wild eyed dreamer), the cheeky English bloke, and the hot, chesty honeys. We also need the brooding outsider, the mutant fish, and the weird look the guards give everyone when they initially try to cross over into Pripyat. We're horror fans - we get it. But then the movie starts to slowly fall apart. Once the tour of the spooky buildings is completely and the first false scare of the show is revealed, there's no more desire for narrative flow. Instead, it's all chaos - individuals running around shouting, their screams and squeals doing little except giving one a headache.

By the time our interchangeable characters are trapped for a second night in the area (yes, the whole "limited exposure to radioactivity" angle gets dumped for the sake of convenience, and plot contrivance) we want the real threat to emerge. As with almost everything else here, upon arrival, it is poorly managed and even underwhelming. Without spoiling much, imagine the enemy facing Bob and Doug Mackenzie at the beginning of Strange Brew (for the film within a film) mixed with every crazed cannibal cliche you can think of and you'll begin to get the idea. After the explanation, the fear is as farcical as an early Hammer film. If Parker was a better director, none of this would manner. Instead, he has to keep referencing Activity's original gimmick - home video - to keep his audience interested.

It doesn't work. Chernobyl Diaries fails because it doesn't universalize its fear. It doesn't crawl under your skin and creep you out. Instead, it hopes you buy into the fascinating if fake Pripyat, care that the characters are in some kind of trouble, and shiver as they run in and around a bunch of concrete compounds at night. There are individual moments that stand out - a sudden pack of rabid dogs, a motionless figure off in the distance - but these are few and far between. Instead, the camera does everything documentary-style, struggling to keep up with everyone as they literally bounce off the walls.

If it sounds like the standard zombie/unseen threat set-up, you'd be partially right. The problem here, as in any undead effort that skimps on the story, is a lack of hope. Once Uri disappears as part of the plot (he's the only one who appears capable of calming things down and saving the day), we are left with chattering ninnies. No one has a bright idea and every decision is made in an offhand, thoughtless manner. Yes, this may be more 'realistic,' but in an entertainment, it's also ridiculous. We want to identify, to feel that we could be part of this group of survivors and find our way out. Here, sprinting willy-nilly through an arguably atmospheric setting, our actors only annoy. We don't want to put ourselves in their place. We want to be as far away from their ear-piercing performances as possible.

Of course, none of this will matter to the post-millennial fright fan, the aficionado raised on a steady two-decade plus diet of subpar straight to video/DVD terror. They're the ones who made the three (and counting) Paranormal Activity films box office gold. They won't care that there's nothing here besides noise and nonsense. Instead, they'll turn the entire experience into one long laugh-specked experience. It's depressing, really. For the first 70 years of the genre, there was a balance between legitimate dread and the bottom line. Now, horror is all about making money. Peli proved he had the Midas touch when he turned 80 minutes of dull camcorder nothing into the next Blair Witch Project. Without the prevalent POV gimmick, Chernobyl Diaries must rely on standard scare tactics. It falls significantly short.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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