The Short of It:
While it’s not the greatest story in the world, The Chernobyl Diaries uses one of the best possible locations for a horror setting. The cliches are a dime a dozen and you’ll pretty much forget the characters by the time you walk out of the theatre. The film contains a number of jump scenes, but when you ultimately find out what’s going on, you may be disappointed. It felt like they could have done a little more with it.
The Long Story:
Oren Peli, creator of the Paranormal Activity films, had a hand in writing the story for Chernobyl Diaries, which is interesting when considering that most of his movies so far have been of the found footage variety. While the film starts off looking like it may be entirely found footage, it conveniently changes over to a standard filming setup, which helps the way everything is presented. I’m thankful they went this route, personally. After Chronicle, I’m not sure I could deal with another found footage film.
Chernobyl Diaries centers around six tourists in Russia, who get the divine notion to take an extreme tour through the town of Pripryat, just near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster from the 1980’s. Once they arrive, however, they find that that an armed roadblock keeps them from the city. Undaunted, they locate a back road into town and make their way through, setting up camp for the day. The spend their time walking around the area to take photos and have discussions about what happened here. I’m not sure if the movie was actually filmed in the city, but the landscape did look very good. That may be one of the things that I can take away from this movie that was worth it. The settings definitely worked, even if the actual gore didn’t. After their mode of transport is damaged, they’re left stranded in the area and searching for a way out. That is the entire plot of the film. The characters don’t count (save that two are related), and the mystery behind what happened there is non-existant. It’s simply 6 people dropping themselves in a hellish situation and trying to find their way out.
Again, this is one of the coolest places to stage a horror film. Imagine with the fallout that occurred, something or someone had to be left behind during the evacuations, waiting to attack others. The problem with this is the audience already knows this. After so many of these types of films, you expect something out there. I thought they could have made what existed a bit extreme, but the effects were such standard fare that one might say they’ve seen better in any episode of The Walking Dead. There’s low budget, and then there’s The Blair Witch Project, then your typical Sci-Fi channel weekend flick and then you have Chernobyl Diaries. For a first time director, Bradley Parker does okay with what he has, but it’s nothing terribly awe-inspiring.
That isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t scare. Trying to escape a town in the dark can’t be easy, and there are a few jump moments that had the audience screaming, but by the time the film ended, some complained about wanting to get their money back. Truthfully, I myself had to cover my ears a few times in certain moments, but this really needed more overall.
Watch it if it happens to come on late at night, but really, the film just isn’t worth paying for.