(L-R) Actress Olivia Taylor Dudley, actor Jonathan Sadowski, and actress Ingrid Bolso Berdal attend the Screening of Warner Bros. "Chernobyl Diaries" at the Cinerama Dome on May 23, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Getty Images)more pics » The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Exploiting a disaster site for cheap thrills is one thing, but the thrills should actually be scary.
A generic suspense film that brushes up against horror but contains such few thrills, it's hard to catergorize it within the genre. Rated R, the film does contain (no pun intended) a couple of bloody moments but does little else to warrant the rating. Chernobyl may not be the most tasteful setting for a scary movie, but this movie will be forgotten so fast, it doesn't really matter.
The story follows four "extreme tourists" who are really just American dummies who think it might be cool to take a look at the worst Nuclear disaster site in history. They enlist the help of Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), a Russian tour guide, and travel in a shoddy van with another couple to check it out. The afternoon trip turns into a nightmare when the van doesn't start and the group is stranded overnight. Soon, some nuclear wolves come out of the woodwork to terrorize the kids, but they are not the only ones.
Hindered by zero character development, Chernobyl Diaries, preys on different fears than writer/producer Oren Peli's most succesful venture, Paranormal Activity, does. Paranormal updated the Blair Witch Project's found footage, big scare formula to great effect, but Chernobyl Diaries is more of a boilerplate thriller. There are some sequences that use handheld cameras, but there is none of the authenticity that made Paranormal work so well. For the film to work, the audience needs to care about the characters and we don't.
The group is made up of Chris (Jesse McCartney), his brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), his girlfriend (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and friend (Devin Kelley). The group lacks any semblance of charisma or likability so when they get in trouble, we shrug our shoulders and watch with little interest. The one interesting character, Diatchecnko's Uri, a lumbering, ex-special forces Russian tour guide is given little room to maneuver outside the Ivan Drago box of stereotypical Russian tough guy. A shame since he commands each scene he's in.
The setting is, at least, interesting. Director Bradley Parker and cinematographer Morten Soborg's camera does have some moments that recall the menacing atmosphere of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later... However, these shots occur during the ascent to climax and are not maximized to any effect. I can't decide if it's ironic or sad the best part of the movie is its questionably tasteless setting.
In the end, Chernobyl Diaries leaves much to be desired. It's not a complete waste of time, and theater-goers looking for a marginal thrill won't be disappointed. There's just so many other movies that have done the same story much better. The only intriguing thing about it is it takes place in Chernobyl. If you're going to exploit the setting of a real-life disaster, you might as well go all in. The third act of the film could have taken place anywhere. Chernobyl Diaries does not do its title any justice, cowering into just another thriller by the end.
See more photos of the cast of Chernobyl Diaries: