Five people touring Europe. One older brother with a history of “cool” ideas that backfire. A quick tour of Chernobyl. What could possibly go wrong?
I’ll wait while you enumerate the possibilities.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Chernobyl Diaries starts out well. We’re introduced to college-grad aged friends hitting the high points of a foreign tour: London, Rome, the Danube, etc. They wind up in Kiev where the older brother of one of the friends lives. He’s going to take them to Moscow.
Except he’s not. He soft-sells them into “extreme touring”—his new friend Uri is going to take them to Pripyat, the city abandoned overnight when the Chernobyl reactor vaporized. They’re joined by two more people and wahoo! We’re off. Of course it’s safe—Uri has a personal Geiger counter. Besides, they’re only going to be in Pripyat for a few hours. You take picture, we see ghost town, everyone has good story to tell. Uri’s been leading these tours for five years. Everything good. Trust Uri. (He really talks like that in the movie.)
The trailers make the movie look like Pripyat is one giant haunted house. I enjoy haunted house stories. A lot.
This wasn’t one of them.
Of course they’re stranded. Of course things go wrong fast and bloody. Of course you start to root for the Big Bad to shut these people up. (Anyone remember The Ruins? The tourists were Too Stupid To Live in both these movies.)
Chernobyl Diaries had promise. Both the script and the direction failed to fulfill that promise. They have trouble getting to Pripyat. That was the point I wanted to start yelling at the screen: Turn around, you idiots! Get out and walk twenty miles if you have to!. (I was in a movie theater, so I refrained.) Whiny little brother whined. Fast-talking older brother kept trying to charm everyone through it. Hard-nosed girl #1 argued with Sweet girl #2. Extra Couple played foil to the TSTL crew. Uri looked cheerful for the tourists, somber when alone, and just might have a Dark Secret.
The movie sloooowed doooooown after they got stranded. It never played up the possible haunting angle. Every twist and turn was completely predictable. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—I enjoy certain kinds of horror movies and have seen so many of them that I simply enjoy the ride.
There were a few high points. The “eerie voices in the dark” device was used only a few times to good effect. There was some unexpected humor. The set they built looked very much like Pripyat as I’ve seen it in documentaries, and the eeriness came across well.
Unfortunately, that’s it. Derivative script, poor direction, unlikable characters. Chernobyl Diaries has nothing a horror fan hasn’t seen a dozen times done much better. I went into this movie prepared to like it. Instead, I was bored. HorrorFAIL.