Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
★ / ★★★★
Chris (Jesse McCartney), Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and Amanda (Devin Kelley) are three Americans traveling across Europe. In the middle of their trip, they decide to visit Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), Chris’ brother, before finally heading to Moscow. But the day they’re about to leave, Paul suggests that instead of going to Moscow, maybe it will be a great idea to visit Pripyat, an abandoned city located right next to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Chris is repelled by the idea given the dangers of the remaining radioactive particles in the vicinity but he is outvoted. With Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) as their guide, along with a couple (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Nathan Phillips), the lucky seven explore the empty streets and buildings unaware that they are being watched.
“Chernobyl Diaries,” directed by Bradley Parker, has an interesting premise but not much is actually done with it. The unsuspecting people sneak into a mysterious place, bizarre things turn scary, people start screaming, and, like most unambitious horror flicks, it is without a third act so we are left dangling and wondering, “Is that it?” One of the worst feelings is when you feel like you’ve been robbed of your time.
In order for horror movies to actually be scary, some type of craft must be utilized. In here, it proves to be a one-trick pony: the camera follows the would-be victims to be terrorized by things that go bump in the night and shakes to a degree–but thankfully not to the point of inducing nausea–when it’s time to run for their lives. All the while, it’s impossible to tell what it is exactly they’re running from until the last twenty minutes. There are scenes that suggest it is rooted mainly in reality while other times imply that the supernatural might be involved. Since it can go either way, neither is particularly terrifying because it eventually spreads itself too thin.
The movie is not without potential. I liked the eeriness that builds up when the camera points at about seventy degrees relative to the ground so we can appreciate the vastness of abandoned buildings. There’s something creepy about a place one day being full of hustle and bustle and the next it’s completely dead. Scenes shot inside grimy old buildings during the day have a foreboding feeling to them. Also, there are moments of silly fun when the characters try to trick one another into being scared. Unfortunately, the night scenes lack inspiration. Every loud noise and the accompanying aftershock are entirely predictable. Furthermore, it’s difficult to see what is going on exactly because the images are so drenched in darkness that we might as well be staring at a wall.
Based on the screenplay by Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke, and Shane Van Dyke, “Chernobyl Diaries” fails to offer anything special. It’s sad to see young people be treated like fodder instead of real people with survival instincts, but it’s another thing when a semblance of effort cannot be felt from behind the camera.