Reviews

'Chernobyl Diaries': What if Something's There?

As you wait for each episode to lead where it must -- more victims dragged away screaming, more survivors wailing over particular losses, more exhortations to "Get out of here!" -- you might take a minute to reflect on what you actually see, which is not much.


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)
Website
Trailer

"Here we go," announces Chris (Jesse McCartney) at the start of Chernobyl Diaries. He and his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), along with her newly single best friend Amanda (Devin Kelley), are traveling across Europe, like so many scary-movie victims before them. They don't know what's coming, but you do, as you watch them posing for each other's cameras, pointing to the Eiffel Tower, name-checking the Tower of London, standing in front of a clunky scene-setting sign at the Frankfurt Airport. By the end of the opening credits, they've paused. "Here we are," Chris asserts, by way of greeting his older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in Kiev.

And yes, here we all are, embarking on yet another bad idea of an adventure. Sometime in the night and off-screen, Paul has met Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), a former special forces officer, now extreme tours guide who offers to take them to Pripyat, the town where Chernobyl nuclear plant workers lived with their families until 1986. That was the year when nuclear reactor number four failed and, as Uri phrases it, "became one with the air." In the 25 years since, the place has remained contaminated and abandoned, which of course makes it an ideal vacation spot.

The trip begins with requisite contraindications: Uri's van is sketchy, the entrance to Pripyat is blocked by armed guards, and the sky is grey. Still, the adventurers -- whose number now includes dead-meat Norwegians Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) -- press on. They're too easily thrilled by a bumpy off-road ride, grossed out by a not-quite dead fish, and put off by Uri's offer of beef jerky. Amanda snaps photos of empty buildings, Michael and Zoe hold hands, Paul calls the place "creepy as fuck." They do consider being worried when they come upon a giant brown bear inside one facility, and then again when the van doesn't start because... "the wires" have been cut.

Now night is falling and wild dogs are barking and oh my god, is that a baby crying? "It's not baby," Uri mumbles. And with that, Chernobyl Diaries is pretty much stuck. Everyone -- even the tourists and Uri -- knows what comes next.

Just so, the guys argue, Zoe frets, and Uri pulls a handgun out of his glove compartment. Whoa, Paul wonders, "What's with the fucking gun?" Uri heads off into the darkness, followed by Chris, who may or may not believe he can be helpful but who is certainly furious at his brother: "Just sit here and see if you can think of a way that you can fuck this up any more." A few gunshots later, the kids are left to wonder how best to proceed, absent cell phone signals, weapons, or "wires."

Absence is pretty much the watchword for Chernobyl Diaries doesn't explain the brothers' apparently vexed history, in which Paul is apparently perennially disappointing. It doesn't indicate how Michael or Paul met Uri or whether Uri is working some scam or just very slow on uptakes. And it doesn't show much about the monsters who loom in long hallways and drag bodies along floors or nosh on carcasses. The sudden appearance of an ooky blond child solicits the usual silliness, that is, an effort by the surviving tourists to call out to it (Paul's command of Russian is intermittent, failing him when it might be most helpful) and also approach it.

As you wait for each episode to lead where it must -- more victims dragged away screaming, more survivors wailing over particular losses, more exhortations to "Get out of here!" -- you might take a minute to reflect on what you do see, which is admittedly, not much. The tourists don't have much time to react to shadows and blood stains and, nearer the end, packs of lumpy, maybe glowing, humanish figures inclined to lumber and chase after their victims as a collective. This is Russia, after all. As extreme tourist spots go, it comes with enough baggage so you can assemble what you don't see and what you can assume into a clumsy narrative of conspiracy and creepiness and post-soviet-but-still-communistic monsters.

Or not. Chernobyl Diaries is less interested in resolution than it is in lack -- of information, of effects, of sense. Even when Amanda reveals to her fellow travelers that she has in fact spotted "something" in her photos, she's not leading to anyone to understanding or a plan or even a look at her photos. They worry a lot about "something," whether "something" is behind a door, if "something" is making a noise, or again, if "something" is coming at them. It's not a terrible idea, for a horror movie to leave out the something. But this movie doesn't set up for anything beyond that.

3

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

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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