“Chernobyl Diaries” is the type of movie you want to like despite its obvious flaws.
Full of stereotypical characters and pumped with silly clichés, “Diaries” is an imperfect horror film with few surprises. But despite such red flags, I enjoyed both the premise and the film’s first half before it descends into a monotonous mess that steals from its predecessors.
The story revolves around a quartet of young people in Europe looking for a good time. The mischievous Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) is the self-selected leader of the group. A former tourist who decided to settle in Kiev, he’s trying to show his visiting kid brother Chris (Jesse McCartney) and their two female companions a good time.
Chris plans to use an excursion to Moscow to propose to his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley), but Paul has other ideas. He wants to engage in extreme tourism, an off-the-map experience that will be hard to forget. Their destination: the ruins of Chernobyl, which were devastated decades ago in the infamous nuclear accident.
This, of course, isn’t a normal tourist destination, so the four hire a “tourism” expert named Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) to guide them through this abandoned town. With a couple of foreign travelers joining the crew, the group of seven eventually embarks on the journey.
From there, the movie follows some of the same horror movie tropes audiences have seen so many times before.
Omniscient warning about travelling to this deserted territory? Check. A vehicle that won’t start? Check. Bad cell phone signals? Check. A radioactive bear? Well, the movie includes a few unique moments. We’ll give it that.
Co-written and produced by “Paranormal Activity” creator Oren Peli, “Diaries” doesn’t start out as a typical horror movie. Its concept is intriguing, and its cold and dreary atmosphere is well-constructed. The idea that young, carefree people would be enticed to visit a nuclear wasteland seems realistic and provides a slam-dunk setting for a film like this.
Watching these youngsters walk through such a devastated area is something that I–and likely many others–would likely be tempted to do if given the chance. But the story falters in its inability to transcend the genre it was born into. While trapped in the creepy town, the characters make the same idiotic decisions that have proved fatal to previous horror movie characters.
One prime example, which earned a few guffaws from the audience I watched the film with, occurs when one of the characters goes missing. This character, who was seen being attacked the night before, is nowhere to be found. but a few of the others see his walkie-talkie outside a dark doorway.
In typical fashion, one of the survivors notes that they have to go look for their missing comrade.”We have to see if he’s alive,” he says. We all know where dreadful lines like that lead, and it ain’t an appearance in a sequel.The frustration with films like this is that it takes a unique concept and then fails to take advantage of it.
“Chernobyl Diaries” has a great idea going for it but after a while, it descends into a level of mediocrity that is all too familiar to horror film fanatics. For its first half, I enjoyed “Diaries” and the scares it offered up but at the halfway point, this diary becomes so silly it isn’t worth the paper it was written on.