Directed by: Brad Parker
Starring: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Dimitri Diatchenko, Olivia Dudley, Devin Kelley, Jesse McCartney, Nathan Phillips, Jonathan Sadowski
Here’s the pitch—six not-particularly-likable 20-somethings decide it’d be a swell idea to pay a sketcky Russian “tour guide” to take them on an illegal tour of Chernobyl. Guess what? It wasn’t such a swell idea after all. What a shock. Similarly, I’ll note that sitting through Chernobyl Diaries isn’t a swell idea either. Oh, it’s not the worst horror movie ever made, but it’ll do in a pinch. Even the existence of one decent shock effect doesn’t keep it from getting the dreaded bottom-of-the-barrel half-star of shame. Yes, it’s that bad. Your time would be better spent—certainly more entertainingly spent—by reading over the IMDb posts fighting over how tasteless it is to exploit a real tragedy, and how insulting it is to try to suggest the Cyrillic alphabet by sticking a couple backwards R’s on the poster. (Really, someone’s knickers are in a twist over the alphabet? Amazing.)
The story is from the mind Oren Peli, the fellow who gave us the Paranormal Activity gimmick. This movie strays from that, but it’s still done in such a way that it looks and feels amateurish and cheap. As near as I can tell, amateurish and cheap is supposed to pass for realism, which in turn is supposed to be scary. Banana oil. It merely draws attention to itself, making the viewer even more conscious that this is a movie. I know, I know. It makes the footage look “real,” but is anybody—other than the incredibly credulous—buying this junk as “real?” In the end, what you’ve got is an ugly, frequently out of focus, poorly lit movie with a bunch of people it’s hard to care about running around in the dark.
I think the trailer’s hook was supposed to be that it never disclosed exactly what was out to get the meat-on-the-hoof cast. Well, I’ll warn you now, the movie never really gives you more than a glimpse of them. Oh, right, that’s scarier. (Watch the 1932 Island of Lost Souls and tell me that.) It’s also a lot cheaper—and cheapness is the hallmark of this movie. It’s pretty obvious that my pre-release guess that the threat would come from Russian, radiated, inbred, cannibal hillbillies was pretty much on target, though the depiction is ... well, wanting. Not that I minded them offing the “characters,” who ranged in sympathetic appeal from the “who cares?” variety to the actively annoying (in the case of whiny Jesse McCartney). Anything that would make the film stop was in its favor, but I was hoping for some kind of a payoff. I should have known better with Oren Peli’s involvement. That’s not to say that first-time director Brad Parker is blameless. He must have had something to do with all this witless running around in the flashlight-lit murk.
The highlight of the whole thing was a fleeting appearance by a rampaging bear. At least I guess the bear was rampaging, since his appearance was so brief. And, yes, that means that we weren’t allowed to see whether or not it was a mutant bear. Oh, for the days of John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy (1979). Now that was a mutant bear! Watch it instead. It’s not very good, but it’s much better than this. Rated R for violence, some bloody images and pervasive language.