“The Chernobyl Diaries” is the very epitome of everything I loathe, despise, dislike, hate, and all other forms of detest in a movie. The longer I watched it, the more infuriated I became that I had subjected myself to viewing such an incredibly moronic piece of filmmaking. This movie is an insult to the intelligence of anyone with an IQ higher than that of a rock.
First, here’s a bit of an obligatory history lesson. You may recall that the worst nuclear meltdown in history occurred on April 26, 1986, in Ukrainian SSR, when reactor number four at Chernobyl’s Nuclear Power Plant exploded and released into the atmosphere radio active contamination more lethal than that contained in 400 atomic bombs. The event necessitated the evacuation of the nearby town of Pripyat, where the plant workers and their families resided. The entire population of 50,000 fled during the night thinking that they would be able to return to their homes soon. They never did. And the city, now a tourist attraction, stands deserted to this day.
As “The Chernobyl Diaries” opens we meet three young adults — Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend, Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and Natalie’s friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) — who are traveling in Europe when they make a stop in Kiev, where Chris’s older brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), now lives. Paul is immediately attracted to Amanda, but Chris tells him that she is still getting over the nasty breakup of a long relationship. And so the four of them go out to a club and get drunk.
The original plan had been for Chris and his friends to leave for Moscow the next morning, but at breakfast Paul says that he has found an extreme tour guide who is willing to take them to the deserted city of Pripyat, which all the Chernobyl workers had evacuated in the wake of the nuclear meltdown. Chris wants nothing to do with a change of plans, but the others outvote him, and so it’s off to Pripyat in a dilapidated van driven by their tour guide, Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), who also managed to lure newlyweds Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) into joining what becomes a trip to hell.
When the tourists arrive at the city gates, armed guards inform Uri that place is closed to visitors because some maintenance work is proceeding. But instead of accepting this and returning home, Uri takes a back road into the place, and the tour gets under way as the group wanders around in the empty streets and through vacant buildings.
Now so that I won’t spoil things for any of those who are foolish enough to pay money to sit through this cinematic aberration, I won’t reveal precisely what happens to the group in the city. Let’s just say, however, that they soon learn they aren’t alone, and when night falls, bad things begin to happen. Of course you can probably guess that the inhabitants of the city are not normal human beings after they had been exposed to radiation from the meltdown.
Is there anything much more irritating and frustrating than trying to watch a film that is shot in such subdued like lighting that you oftentimes have no idea what is going on? Well, that is definitely the case with this one. For 45 minutes I listened to people slamming, banging, and screaming around in deserted buildings while seeing virtually nothing. Obviously something was terrifying these people, but you got such a fleeting glance of what they were that it was hard to identify them.
Actually I should’ve known that I was going to despise this film because the writer is Oren Peli, who also wrote screenplays for the four “Paranormal Activity” films, which are among the biggest ripoff’s in the history of cinema. In the film’s production notes, Peli explained what the filmmakers were attempting to do in this movie.
“From the moment the characters drive into Pripyat, we only see what they see and know what they know, so we’re a part of the trip, we’re part of the experience. Brad (first-time director Bradley Parker) really got that natural, improvisational feeling we wanted, and I think the audience will experience the fear along with the characters on screen.
“That whole feeling of paranoia that begins to sink in when they realize they’re stranded, they’re alone, they’re basically screwed. No one is coming to help them, and there’s something out there that wants to hunt them, but they don’t know what it is or how to defend themselves against it. Things just keep getting worse and worse, which means that hopefully, for the audience, it just gets better and better.”
Also in the production notes Parker offered an analysis of why he was attracted to the project.
“When Oren first described ‘Chernobyl Diaries,’ I knew it was a project I wanted to explore. I have a collection of photographs of fascinating locations that I would someday like to film, and Pripyat was high on the list. As we discussed the story, setting and tone of the film, things just clicked. I wanted to make a movie that grabs them and doesn’t let go until the closing credits. The Pripyat in our story is a haunting place. The thought of being there alone at night is frightening, but not being alone is terrifying.”
Sorry, Oren and Brad, but for me it got worse and worse, and it certainly didn’t grab me because for a film to do that, it has to be something that I can see, and some of the scenes in this one were so dark that I may as well have been wearing a blindfold as I attempted to watch them.
In addition to being poorly shot, the film was nothing to brag about in the acting department because the actors spent most of their time onscreen screaming and yelling in pitch-black rooms. From the time the opening credits rolled until the film’s invisible conclusion, I found absolutely no redeeming factors. It was dull, tedious, lackluster, and it packed less fright value than an episode of “Sesame Street.”
“The Chernobyl Diaries” is just another in the seemingly endless array of inferior films this summer. It receives the ultimately insulting score of zero, and I wish it had been destroyed in the Chernobyl meltdown so I wouldn’t have had to suffer through it.