Bradley Parker does well to make his directorial debut on the coattails of Oren Peli’s second stab at (co)script writing. That way, even if Chernobyl Diaries sucks, the fact that it’s “from the writer that brought you Paranormal Activity,” will bring in enough fans to cover the cost of production. That’s right, the studio has taken that page from Oren Peli’s notebook as well – make it as cheap as possible and pray for it to be wildly successful for higher profit margins. I can’t say I blame them. Still, given the budget restrictions and a cast of relatively unknowns, Park, Peli, and crew fully utilize the cryptic setting and our imagination to deliver a jumpy suspenseful thriller.
more after the jump!
The film opens with a “footage found” montage of Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) making their way across Europe. Luckily, the first person shaky camera nonsense ends as the group meets up with Chris’s brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), and for the most part, the rest of the movie is filmed from a third party perspective (which is nice). Wanting to show his younger brother and friends a good time, Paul decides to postpone their trip to Moscow and convinces the group to join two other tourists, Michael (Nathan Phillips) and his girlfriend Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), on a day trip to Pripyat, a city that was quickly abandoned by the families of the Chernobyl workers during the famous failure the nuclear reactors.
Led by their extreme tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), the group wanders through the uninhabited school, offices, and apartment complexes examining all the things the families left behind. Despite evidence to the contrary, Uri convinces the group that there are no living animals anywhere near the Chernobyl site…during the day, but makes it clear they need to get out before nightfall. As the sun begins to set, the group piles into the van, all set to head back home, only to find that van’s electrical wires have been chewed through. Determined to wait out the night in the van, the tension mounts as the group begins to hear more than just animal noises in the city. When Uri doesn’t come back from his investigation of the strange noises, the stranded tourists begin to realize they might not be alone after all.
In the end, Chernobyl Diaries is pretty generic. It’s basically a bunch of dumb kids, who go do something they’re not supposed, and then endless scenes of them running around while getting attacked by things they adamantly denied existed earlier. Sure the mix of Bradley Parker’s long suspenseful shots of obscure shadows and unsettling insinuations definitely get the audience’s imaginations reeling, but when it comes time to deliver a satisfying payoff, the audience only gets more running and screaming.
In hindsight, I was really lucky to be in a theater with people that seemed to appreciate scary movies. Sure, there were a couple of jokes when things cooled off a bit, some nervous laughter here and there, but when things really got going, it was completely silent. I was also really lucky to only have seen the teaser for this movie. When I finally sat down to watch the full trailer afterwards, I felt like the whole movie was basically given away. I mean let’s be honest; the best way to enjoyable a fairly predictable story is to know as little about it as possible, so don’t watch the trailer if you haven’t already (I tried to pick the least revealing one I could find).
Kibitzers give Chernobyl Diaries a 2 ½ out of 5. For the full effect, watch it in the dark with some friends that are easily scared, otherwise a more casual movie goer might find it repetitive and possibly even boring.