The disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 was the biggest nuclear disaster ever and left the Ukrainian city of Prypiat a literal ghost town. People are curious and love to see the unknown, so it should come as no surprise that people are fascinated with the disaster and the city that was left behind in its wake. As such, the city has long had the interest of scientists and tourists hoping to see with their own eyes the effects the disaster had on the area. It is also a breeding ground for fictional radiation created boogiemen.
Chernobyl Diaries attempts to feed off of the ready-made storytelling devices the location has left behind over the last 25 years. A group of curious tourists set out on an “extreme” tour of the city of Prypiat. While this may seem completely absurd, tours such as this actually do exist and they are completely legal. The opening of the film is actually quite well done and one gets a sense that these tourists are actually in the ghost city. Shot with beautiful stock footage of the actual city interspersed with the generic look of rundown, old buildings, the “tour” of Prypiat is fascinating but no more so than a Discovery channel special on the site.
The film does not really get moving until the group attempts to leave the site and are stranded because their van will not start, it also at this point that the film completely falls apart. While the pacing of the film picks up significantly once the sun goes down, the acting takes a major nose dive. Whereas the cast was mostly believable as tourists, they are just outwardly annoying once the “horror” kicks in.
As individuals get picked off one by one, the film settles in on two characters, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) and Amanda (Devin Kelley). Paul spends the majority of the film being a giant imbecile, getting everyone into more and more trouble, but when things get really bad the film expects you to pull for his survival and it could not have made a worse decision in doing so. Paul is irredeemable and the type of character that viewers are hoping to see die in some horrific way, not for him to survive.
Rookie director, Bradley Parker gets so much wrong with how Chernobyl Diaries is structured, paced and presented that the film is ultimately a failure. Parker is not completely inept though behind the camera. Whereas many first time horror directors make the mistake of showing too much, Parker shies away from revealing what goes bump in the night of his film until the last act. If there had been any sort of actual tension in the film this could have saved the film from just being another great premise with poor execution.
2 / 5