Where to start with Chernobyl Diaries? It’s insensitive subject material? The terrible plot or the awful “acting” or maybe the weird found footage style that … isn’t? Let us start at the beginning, with the story, or what is apparently the “plot.”
We find a group of bland, generic young adults in Ukraine on holiday (one of them lives there on a full-time basis), and of course just being on holiday is never enough. Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) meets Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) who offers to take the group – which includes Paul’s brother Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie and another friend Amanda, plus Aussie Michael and his girlfriend Zoe – on an extreme tour to the town of Pripyat located in the Chernobyl disaster fallout zone, and is abandoned and heavily guarded so of course the group want to go for a little urban exploring. They can’t get through the checkpoint so it makes sense to take a huge detour and enter elsewhere.
All seems to be going well until a bear suddenly appears out of nowhere and charges at the assembled team in a desolate tower block, and the gang decide it’s best to head back. Yes. A bear. Obviously when they arrive back at their tour bus things aren’t quite right and Uri and Chris inexplicably leave the vehicle to look for help back at the checkpoint. Oh, what a mistake. There’s an attack, Uri disappears and Chris gets mauled by dogs. They think. It’s here that things really fall apart.
Written by Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli (which, by all accounts, was actually a really interesting premise for a horror flick) the style in Chernobyl Diaries is hard to place. The camera is all shaky and documentary in feel yet there’s no evidence of any of the group taking video and the only other camera seen is the one Amanda uses to photograph the trip accidentally catching spooky apparitions in top floor windows. The mob slowly disbands in an effort to get the van functional, and journey deeper in the heart of Pripyat whilst unseen entities take them out one by annoying one. Pretty standard fare by this point, including the “twist” ending that is so obvious you could probably guess it without even sitting through the film.
The beginning of Chernobyl Diaries isn’t too bad, the history of the area is explained and the disaster isn’t glossed over at all. For a film that runs at one hour twenty minus credits though, it takes a long time to really get going and the most exciting thing that happens in the initial stages is the recognition of a couple of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare levels – that’s how boring this film is.
The scares are not the least bit scary, there are no shocks, and even when that bear barrels through by surprise, it’s all so ridiculous and probably not the atmosphere Peli and direction Bradley Parker were going for. You don’t care for any of the characters in the slightest, they don’t seem like real people and there’s no real want for them to stay alive or find help as you would usually have in a survival-horror such as this. Add to that the nature of the “enemy” in this film and you have insensitivity on a massive scale.
Whilst it’s not explicit that the encounters are with Chernobyl survivors the implication of the films tagline – Experience the Fallout – and the nature of the nuclear landscape means the thought is always with you. Chernobyl’s meltdown had a huge impact on the country and its fallout was widespread and devastating and still has repercussions to this day and whilst initially the film shows a respect for what happened in 1986, the dénouement smacks of cheap thrills and easy exits.
UK Release Date: 22nd June