John "The Arrow" Fallon's review will go live on the site this weekend!
PLOT: Won't horror movie characters ever learn? If you travel to a strange land and someone promises you a vacation you’ll never forget, what they mean is you won’t be alive long enough to forget it. Such is the case when six tourist decide to go “extreme touring” to the abandoned area where the Chernobyl disaster took place. Guess what? Bad things happen.
REVIEW: It may be a surprise to some that CHERNOBYL DIARIES is not a “found footage” feature. It may have the aesthetics with the shaky camera and low budget mentality, but it attempts to venture out into the world of narrative storytelling. The film features a group of twenty-something tourists’ convinced to do what one would call “extreme touring.” Basically they decide to visit the location of the Chernobyl disaster – a real life catastrophic nuclear accident which took place on April 26, 1986. A tour guide and the six sightseers’ make their way to the abandoned area in order to witness where the devastation took place. Yet once they arrive, they are told by the guards at a check point that they cannot enter. Of course, like any sane person they go back and spend the day in Moscow right? Nope, they take a hidden road to get into the ruins ignoring the warnings.
It is damn near impossible to feel any sympathy or understanding for these people as they constantly make horrible decisions. This lunacy includes ignoring the very stern warnings, separating from each other often, wasting time to look for others that are most likely dead. So ideally you could excuse some of this dumb behavior because this is a horror film after all. Yet for some reason, their impressive ability to make moronic decisions often feels more irritating than most films of this ilk. When Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) searches for his brother Chris (a questionably cast Jesse McCartney) he screams out to him even when they are knowingly hunted by a lurking presence. Sure he loves his brother, but come on man this is ridiculous. And for an “extreme” tour guide who has done this exact tour so many times before, why does he seem to have no idea as to what he is doing half the time. Of course, one could argue that he is just a fraud who really is clueless.
The script – written by Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke – offers a few moments of genuine suspense. Even director Bradley Parker occasionally creates a sense of tension as the group of fodder find themselves stranded in a city brewing with radiation, wild animals and something horrible lingering in the darkness. Yet so much of the mysterious element is lost due to an all too familiar pattern. It is clear who will be the last victim standing and it is clear as to what they will be standing up against. The lack of mystery diminishes the intensity brought on by a handful of sequences. It doesn’t help matters that characters follow such predictably bad behavior. At least they didn’t decide to have sex in some creepy place because it would be totally hot to do so. That would’ve really pissed me off.
The cast is a surprisingly capable group of actors thankfully. Simply because they make idiotic choices doesn’t mean bad acting per say. The stand-outs include Sadowski who, despite absolutely no chemistry with his on-screen brother, is a sympathetic part-time jerk with a heart. If only they had hired another actor for Chris as McCartney is so utterly bland and flat that I couldn’t wait for him to disappear. If there had been a better connection between the two it might have made for a more suspense filled drama. And of course, there is the lovely and very natural Devin Kelley as Amanda. Again, her character is irritatingly stupid, yet she also happens to be very amiable as the girl in peril. The rest of the cast including Dimitri Diatchenko as the hapless tour guide, the lovely Olivia Taylor Dudley and another couple that join the tour, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Nathan Phillips were all engaging enough. They even made much of the dialogue feel natural in context of this horrific situation.
It is hard to really recommend CHERNOBYL DIARIES even if it has a couple of potent moments. I won’t even get into the fact that more than a few people have expressed uneasiness about creating a horror movie such as this revolving around such a devastating event in history. If the idea of that bothers you, you may want to skip this one. As well you should if you are not a fan of the “found footage” sub-genre. While it may not be that type of film in general, audiences who do not appreciate the shaky cam feel will most certainly be bothered by this as well. This is not a terrible film yet it isn’t necessarily good. The scares are jolty enough for a packed theatre on a Saturday night. Nevertheless it might get under your skin a little more effectively watching in the comfort of your own home. And in case you are wondering, the ending isn’t a complete letdown even if it is obvious.