Review: Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Directed by: Bradley Parker
Starring: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Olivia Dudley

From the mind of Oren Peli (sort of) comes yet another half-baked, moreover failed cash-grab that drew patrons into their theater seats opening night for the sake of clutching their loved ones in fear. In order for that to happen, though, the film in question needs to actually possess just that: effective scares. While scoring points for atmosphere and taking to a setting peculiarly absent in the realm of both horror and science-fiction, Bradley Parker’s Chernobyl Diaries is a generally boring, trite and mostly aggravating take on your typical fish-out-of-water spookfest.

Focusing on a group of American twenty-somethings as their European vacation leads them on an “extreme” excursion to Prepyat instead of Moscow, otherwise known as the village neighboring Chernobyl built prior to its catastrophic nuclear meltdown, a tour guide (SURPRISE) leads them on a detour through the backwoods of the deserted city to reach its center. When someone knowingly disobeys orders from military officials and takes matters into their own hands, it can be safely assumed that bad shit’s about to go down in a matter of minutes. Sadly, the film’s not-so-lengthy run time doesn’t correspond with its laborious pacing, setting us up for a Blair Witch-style slow burn with literally no payoff. I throw this statement around a lot, but for an actual horror film sans-found footage approach to so fervently conform to these standards is borderline ridiculous for a battery of reasons, entertainment purposes above all.

Even more disappointing still is how Chernobyl Diaries tries to pass itself off as a horror film in the first place. Misleading us once again via a marketing campaign that covers every inch of the film’s suspense in a matter of two minutes, Parker’s disasterpiece does manage to benefit from its creative, if a bit obvious use of the Chernobyl disaster’s aftermath. Insinuating that the town of Prepyat still secretly houses those presumed to have evacuated decades prior to this day, things could’ve been handled much better if a terribly ridiculous twist wasn’t implemented during the film’s final moments.

Striking out more than making even the slightest contact, Chernobyl Diaries is a horrific (no pun intended) disgrace of a genre film that relies more on the use of its backdrop and the scientific evidence corresponding with it than genuine scares. You’ll jump at the sight of a bear barreling through an abandoned apartment complex, but when every radiation-stricken denizen is obscured by shadows or hazily glimpsed at from a distance, you start not really giving a shit about anyone or anything. What WILL you gather from the film, you ask? Well for starters, Paul’s NOT LEAVING WITHOUT JESSE MCCAR – er, his brother Chris. Aside from that, everyone’s laughably one-dimensional and stupid in every sense of the word, especially from a cliched horror-specific angle. Got it? Good. Now if only the same concept was used with a different end result, more specifically the characters joining hands in a moment of realization whilst chanting in unison the following: “We’re trespassing in the Russian boondocks with a dead tour guide and no communication to the outside world, let’s just sit here and fuckin’ die.”

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