out of Five
Running time: 86
Chernobyl Diaries has an intriguing premise and makes a commendable stab at subverting expectations, but it ultimately fails to deliver in terms of either gore, suspense or scares.
What's it all about?
Directed by Bradley Parker and produced by Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli (though, thankfully, not the found footage movie it initially threatens to be), Chernobyl Diaries centres on a group of six travellers – good-looking brothers Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) and Chris (Jesse McCartney), Chris' girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley), their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) and another couple (Nathan Phillips and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as Michael and Zoe) – who decide to take an extreme tourism trip to the deserted city of Pripyat, site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Accompanied by their guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), the group manage to avoid a military checkpoint and sneak into Pripyat, but when it's time to leave, their van fails to start, stranding them in the city after dark. With strange noises and shadowy figures lurking outside, the group become increasingly panicked and it isn't long before they're being picked off by an unseen menace. But is it feral dogs or something more sinister?
The performances are fine, but the script doesn't give the characters room to develop much in the way of personality (Paul is the cocky, trouble-prone brother, Chris the sensible one, etc), so it's hard to care too much when they start disappearing. Similarly, the premise of the film is intriguing, heightened by some impressive location work (though sadly not authentic – Budapest and Belgrade both stand in for Pripyat), while the script has a commendable stab at subverting expectations, at least in terms of who goes first. There's also a good bit with a bear.
It's easy to see some of the thinking behind Chernobyl Diaries, particularly in the decision to delay the reveal of the exact nature of the unseen menace for as long as possible. However, having established a potential level of violence and gore (something nasty happens to a character's leg early on), the filmmakers fail to deliver on that early promise of worse to come, while the decision not to ever fully show their assailants backfires badly and starts to look like cheapness.
Quite apart from anything else, it's impossible to care about the characters when they behave so stupidly, while the script also fails to deliver the three key ingredients for this sort of thing: suspense, scares and gore. It's also fair to say that the dialogue is occasionally laugh-out-loud terrible.
Despite a decent premise, Chernobyl Diaries is ultimately something of a disappointment, thanks to a weak script and a fundamental failure to deliver in terms of shocks and gore.