Chernobyl Diaries is the latest film produced by Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli and shakes up a familiar story by taking us to an unfamiliar setting. While the movie should hold your interest for most of the running time, it doesn’t provide enough scares or plot development to make it a stand-out horror movie.
The start of the Chernobyl Diaries is promising and I enjoyed the initial character building, which so many similar horror films fail to do. We are introduced to Chris, who travels with his girlfriend and her friend to meet his brother Paul in Russia. Their planned trip to Moscow changes when Paul convinces the group to go with extreme tour guide Uri and two other tourists on a trip to Pripyat, an abandoned town right next to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The audience may know all along that it’s a bad idea to visit Chernobyl, but it takes everyone on the tour a little bit longer to catch up. After the tour wraps up and they are about to head out, an automotive malfunction causes them to be stranded near Chernobyl overnight, where something is waiting for them in the dark.
Up to this point in the film Chernobyl Diaries is off to a strong start, thanks in part to interesting characters and some impressive camera work from director Brad Parker. From the trailers, you may be under the impression that this is mostly a found footage film, however there are very little found footage elements within the movie. Still, the movie has a raw unscripted look to it that serves this type of story well. The beginning of the visit to Chernobyl is as interesting to the audience as it is to the characters in the film, giving us a glimpse of a setting not many people have laid their eyes on. Although not actually shot in Pripyat, the location is convincing and helps create the claustrophobic feeling needed for this movie. It’s refreshing to have a horror film that is not set in a cemetery, forest, or old house, and it keeps you wondering how these tourists will meet their fates.
Unfortunately, as the movie continues, a disconnect between the audience and the characters starts to grow. The audience shares the characters’ unfamiliarity with the area near Chernobyl, but the events that transpire are only terrifying to the characters inside of the film. Where successful horror films work on building tension, scares, and the final reveal, Chernobyl Diaries feels muted. The initial scares are enough to make the average audience member jump out of their seat, but by the end, we’ve just been along for a familiar ride with interesting characters who have now become one-dimensional. The finale attempts to give us a surprise or two, but it’s a case of too little, too late, and you’ll probably question how the ending makes sense given the events that transpired.
The setting, director, and cast should be enough to merit a viewing for avid horror fans who crave something new. Chernobyl Diaries may not build upon its promising start, but it pulls you in enough to keep you entertained and I don’t regret spending the time to check it out. For everyone else, the movie doesn’t have enough scares or plot development to stand out against popular horror films and make this a must-see movie.
Film Score: 2/5