There is a word that I see being used in social media these days that pretty much sums up how I felt about Chernobyl Diaries, “meh”. I usually approach a film with little expectations so that my views aren’t biased and I’m able to be as open minded on the film as possible. This movie was no exception. Being stranded in a city that was abandoned due to a radioactive blast is not the ideal setting to take a vacation and our characters in Diaries learned that lesson the hard way.
First off for all you Paranormal Activity fans you need to understand this. Even though the film was produced by Oren Peli, this is no where near a haunted house tale of two little girls being chased forever by a demon. The film actually starts off pretty appealing as we get introduced to Chris, Amanda, and Natalie who are touring through Europe on a mission to Kievto to visit Chris’ brother Paul. Chris has always had a rocky relationship with his brother who seems to attract trouble but Chris decides to give him the benefit of the doubt and announces to Paul that he intends to propose to Natalie when they reach Moscow. Paul runs into an extreme tourism guide named Uri who specializes in out of the way adventures that are usually off the grid. The proposed tour that Paul brings to the rest of the bunch is to go visit the city of Pripyat which has been abandoned for the past 25 years to do a radioactive blast from one of the nuclear reactors. Reluctantly they decide to go and of course that turns out to be a bad idea.
The filmmakers really tried to give you a back drop of these characters but the sad thing is it really doesn’t work. The acting is horrendous and it hurts the character development because you immediately lose interest in anything going on personally with them. In my opinion, Uri was a bright spot in the film as he gave you the sense there is more than meets the eye with him. Two more characters are introduced in the film that join them on their journey named Zoe and Michael. The six of them set off to Pripyat and once they arrive at the destination they are met by armed guards that tell them the city is being closed off for maintenance and they are not allowed to enter. Uri has a back way in the city and after a short detour they finally arrive in the abandoned area. The best part of the entire film is the setting of Pripyat. I was drawn in by the isolation of the city that had over 5,000 people in it who were told they had less than five minutes to abandon the city so they would not get exposed to radiation. They left all their possessions behind which created an amazing backdrop to the film as the six characters travel through the old apartments and school which ups the creepiness level a little but still moved rather slow for what was to come.
So the initial problem arises when they run into a bear that scares the hell out of them and gives them the notion its time to leave. Once they arrive back to the van they find it unable to start and the battery cables have been cut. The crew cannot get a hold of anyone and since Uri works alone no one knows they are there. The only thing they can do is wait it out until the morning to see if they can fix the van.
Once nightfall comes, strange noises surround the van and Amanda even thinks she hears a baby cry. Uri decides to go take a look and Chris – - frustrated with his brother – tags along. Chris returns after shots are fired and his leg is in pieces. He explains that Uri was captured by something and that “there were a lot of them.” Michael, Amanda, and Paul go look for Uri and find him ripped apart and being eaten by some creature. Desperate to leave, they return to the van only to get attacked by a pack of wild dogs. By this time in the film I was expecting some sort of dramatic turn but was disappointed when nothing else followed. Not to spoil anymore of the film, we come to find out there is more going on in this town that was expected and the characters are engaged in a fight for survival to escape the city filled with wild dogs, unspeakable characters, and a level of radiation that rises by the hour.
The main issue I have with this film is it was very similar to the The Hills Have Eyes. Even more than that, I found this tale quite unbelievable. I unfortunately found myself waiting for them all to be killed so the movie would just end. They try and create a twist towards the end but it’s more of the same and just doesn’t work. More than anything, I think the night scenes hurt the film because I felt like I was watching a chase movie but no one was being chasing. It comes across as just a jumpy camera that only gave glimpses of the creatures after the cast which might disappoint some horror fans. Usually I enjoy films that keep the monsters at bay and waits to show them in some sort of epic proportion. Yet, it didn’t happen. I found myself being more involved in the daylight scenes because you could at least tell what was happening. Maybe the true problem is that this is just another lukewarm movie about of group of people in Europe going someplace they shouldn’t and reaping the consequences that follow.
I hate to say that this is a film you may want to wait to watch ‘on-demand’ or a rental release because with the prices of movies these days, I’m sure you will be let down. All night I tried to find some good in the film which made it difficult to write this review but I couldn’t. I think Oren Peli needs to stick with the haunted houses for now because if he wants to amaze audiences by attaching himself to projects like this, we won’t be hearing his name too much in the near future. A bad cast, stale ideals, and an unimpressive scare factor hurt a film that had an incredible setting but did little to capitalize on it.