While on a holiday in Europe, a group of American tourists book an extreme trip to the abandoned nuclear city of Pripyat. But they are not alone…Oren Peli has a lot to answer for. As the fairly smart fellow behind the phenomenon that was Paranormal Activity, he’s since been liberally throwing his name around Hollywood – returning as a producer for PA2, 3 and 4 and working on ABC’s thoroughly boring The River. He’s back with a writing and producing credit for Chernobyl Diaries, which might just be his weakest effort yet.
There is one commendable moment in Chernobyl Diaries, where handheld video of some idiotic Americans traipsing around Europe cuts to non found footage. It’s actually refreshing to see a horror film presented with a thoroughly omniscient camera for a change and prompted an audible sigh of relief in my screening.
For the sake of complete fairness, the technical specs are well above average – especially the camerawork using available light. And there’s little doubt that the choice of location is ideal for the genre – areas of Serbia and Hungary filling in for the abandoned former Soviet city.
Everything else in Chernobyl Diaries is basically muck. The characters, if you can call them that, are barely drawn and so chronically stupid that you’ll quickly find yourself rooting for the mutant antagonists. A typical exchange involves one of their number showing up (somewhat inexplicably) with a leg that’s basically hanging off. His girlfriend's response, a straight faced “he needs a doctor.”
Beyond the execrable dialogue, the script is barely coherent – even managing to trip up on the set in stone structures of the horror genre. After the groups first encounter with their attackers, they retreat back to their malfunctioning truck and its only then the filmmakers choose to show brunette girl looking through photos on her DSLR to find a blurred, creepy shape. Hey you, director person, this moment is pointless after the enemy has already been revealed!
Revealed is really too strong a word for the treatment of the creatures in Chernobyl Diaries. While the action scenes in general are shot in laughably over the top shaky-cam, we’re literally never given a chance to glimpse the monster for more than a split second. Given those quick glances, it’s likely that the production took one look at the designs and vowed to never let the lacklustre work be seen on screen.
The cast is singularly unimpressive, intent on falling into types as obvious as loud irresponsible guy, random foreign dude and even inappropriately busty lady who leans towards the camera a lot, a niche filled by the slack jawed Olivia Dudley. The dialogue and situations may serve them ill but they still stifle any chance to make an impression, particularly during the final act when an emotional breakdown is required that is nothing less than laughable.Chernobyl Diaries sometimes feels like a cut price horror buffet – throwing every cliché at the screen in the hope some will stick. We get a creepy little kid, eerie silhouettes at the edges of the frame and even an utterly random discovery of a room which seems prepped for surgery. And the, right when the film should end to retain even a token amount of mystery, it continues right up to a bizarre ending (complete with subtitles for no good reason) and a final sting which is nothing less than lazy.Chernobyl Diaries scores some decent tech credits and an incredible location but wastes every ounce of its potential on an improbably poor script, abysmal performances and a story which can’t even follow the connect the dots rules of the horror genre. Avoid.