If you’re sick of shaky camera horror films then you should skip “Chernobyl Diaries.” It’s shot like it’s a “Paranormal Activity” movie or “The Blair Witch Project” but without the main character doing the filming. And thank goodness for that because there’s just no excuse why anyone would film the entire ordeal that takes place in this film. Of course the story does involves cameras – it’s about young tourists in the Ukraine who go on an “extreme tour” by hiring a local man who takes them to the abandoned city near the site of the terrible Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Of course, who wouldn’t want to see that? And if we’ve seen from countless horror movies before, what happens when you mix unsuspecting tourists and nuclear fallout? Mutant humanoids of course!
The film is being slickly marketed as from the guy who brought you “Paranormal Activity.” And that is sort of true. Oren Peli, who signed a like a 20 picture deal after his film make a gazillion dollars, is the producer and co-writer of this mishmash of “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Blair Witch Project.” Think mutants and shaky cameras.
The film attempts to give the twenty something characters personalities, but mostly fails in that area. The story concerns a young guy Chris played by Jesse McCartney and his older brother Paul played by Jonathan Sadowski. They bring along their girlfriends, meet an Australian couple along the way, and hire a local named Uri to take them to Chernobyl. They observe from a safe distance after sneaking in. You see since it’s, ya know, Chernobyl, the area is heavily guarded and people are generally not allowed in. But Uri manages to drive his van full of naïve tourists into this deserted wasteland. They quickly observe some mutated fish. And if that’s not a sign to get the hell out of there, I don’t know what is.
In traditional horror movie fashion, when the group returns to the van to head out of there (after nearly being mauled by a stray bear) they find the engine wires have been destroyed. Like in most of these movies, no one knows they’re there, oh and they’re like thirteen miles from another human being. Or are they. They decide to wait overnight, but not before Uri steps out into the darkness with Chris and Chris returns after being attacked by an unseen assailant. Was it the bear? Was it the violent stray dogs? Was it something big enough to turn the van completely over? Most of the film revolves around our characters running away from something we can’t really see, which works in the whole “what you can’t see is scarier than what you can see” but after a while you want to see something.
And we do. And then we’re not totally surprised, but at least the film remains potently atmospheric and suspenseful for the most part. I jumped here and there at the appropriate spots that were fully planned by the filmmakers. “Chernobyl Diaries” doesn’t really add anything new to the genre, and certainly doesn’t help its constant failed attempts at freshness or originality, but like a comforting meal, it hits all the right spots and goes down easily enough. GRADE: B-