‘Chernobyl Diaries’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated May 25th, 2012 at 5:15 pm,

Chernobyl Diaries Cast Chernobyl Diaries Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Chernobyl Diaries

At first glance, many moviegoers will assume that Chernobyl Diaries is just the latest entry in the found-footage genre – considering the film’s trailer is chock-full of awkward shaky cam footage (the movie is also based on a story by Oren Peli, creator of the Paranormal Activity franchise). Despite Peli’s involvement as creator and producer (Bradley Parker directs), Chernobyl Diaries is actually a much more standard horror project – featuring known actors (including musician Jesse McCartney as well as Jonathan Sadowski from S#*! My Dad Says) and an omniscient camera that follows a group of friends as they enter a restricted area and subsequently get picked off one at a time by mysterious inhabitants.

Without the found footage craze to fall back on, does the eerie Chernobyl backdrop and Peli-conceived story, coupled with the choice of shaky cam footage, make Chernobyl Diaries a memorable horror outing?

Unfortunately, Chernobyl Diaries is caught in an unsatisfying middle ground between traditional horror tropes and (as alluded to earlier) a number of filmmaking choices borrowed from Peli’s found footage repertoire. As mentioned, the film is not a found footage project, but it has all of that genre’s shortcomings (shaky camera work and an underdeveloped overarching plot to name a few) which essentially undercut any potential enjoyment that could have been derived from the admittedly engrossing setting and premise. While a certain batch of moviegoers might enjoy the film’s frantic shooting style, many audiences will recognize the shaky cam for what it actually is – an excuse to ratchet up tension in an otherwise thin and underwhelming trip through increasingly dark corridors.

Chernobyl Diaries Olivia Taylor Dudley Dimitri Diatchenko Chernobyl Diaries Review

Olivia Taylor Dudley, Dimitri Diatchenko, and Chernobyl

The initial story foundation is pretty basic: a group of American tourists – Chris (McCartney), Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), Amanda (Devin Kelley) and Paul (Sadowski) – sign-up for an “extreme tourism” adventure to Pripyat, a Ukrainian city that was built to house Chernobyl nuclear power plant employees (also featured in the first act of Transformers: Dark of the Moon). Long abandoned, following the catastrophic nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the city has been reclaimed by nature – following the exodus of nearly 50,000 evacuees who were forced to leave their homes at a moment’s notice. When the tourists first arrive at the site – along with tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and a backpacking couple, Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) – the group is turned away at a checkpoint by military officials. Undeterred, Uri finds a back way into Pripyat – and the tourists spend the day exploring the post-apocalyptic compound. However, when it’s time to leave, Uri’s van fails to start and the group is thrust into a life-or-death struggle for survival against wild animals and a mysterious presence that moves among the irradiated ruins.

The early moments of the film (establishing the various character dynamics) are pretty stilted (as are the performances throughout) but once the group arrives at Pripyat, it’s easy to get engrossed in the setting – as the abandoned city (which was actually shot on location) offers a creepy but extremely fascinating backdrop for the on-screen drama. That said, as the “horror” elements are pushed to the fore, the film mostly abandons the bizarre on-site visuals (such as a rusted ferris wheel and parking lot full of corroded vehicles) in favor of dark underground hallways. Coupled with the shaky cam footage, the filmmakers essentially strip away the one aspect that made the film stand out from similar horror offerings – and the experience devolves into a frustrating and nauseating mess that fails to deliver a satisfying payoff (neither in terms of narrative beats or “creature” reveals).

At nearly every turn, Chernobyl Diaries presents story ideas and reveals in order to get a reaction out of the audience – not because any of them tie together or make sense by the time the credits roll. While “character development” is hardly a concern in the film, most audiences will find the various decisions and actions taken by the characters to be especially hard to swallow, or at the very least, obviously motivated by the filmmaker’s effort to push the group further and deeper into the belly of Pripyat – instead of as far away from danger as possible. Moviegoers expect to suspend a certain amount of disbelief while in a theater, especially in the horror genre, but aside from the compelling setting, Chernobyl Diaries presents one formulaic set-piece after another – always prioritizing spooky set-ups over telling a fully-formed story (which becomes increasingly hard to swallow in the third act). As a result, the strung-together series of scares fails to provide compelling answers to the Pripyat mystery as well as entirely forgoes a satisfying closure to more than one key character.

Chernobyl Diaries Devin Kelley Chernobyl Diaries Review

Devin Kelley as Amanda in 'Chernobyl Diaries'

Considering there’s no “character” behind the film’s wobbly camera, as the story progresses and the mystery begins to unravel, it becomes painfully obvious that the shaky cam work is being used to compensate for what could be one of the least compelling and underdeveloped “horror” reveals of all time. By flailing the camera around, the film manages to stretch out a pretty boring (and completely unearned) idea that, had Chernobyl Diaries been shot with a steady cam instead, would have otherwise had audiences rolling their eyes in the second act.

All of these missteps could be forgivable if the film delivered entertaining scares or tense encounters, but other than a few traditional “what’s under that sheet” scenes of “horror,” there are very few surprises or intriguing developments to justify the poorly realized filmmaking ideas. It’s too bad because, in the hands of a more ambitious team of moviemakers, Peli’s core idea could have been stretched into an extremely interesting mystery drama. Instead, as each layer of the “horror” is pulled back, the Chernobyl Diaries experience is less and less captivating – all while becoming increasingly convoluted.

By the end, Chernobyl Diaries presents a mismatched effort that was working with some intriguing core elements (namely the location and primary, albeit underdeveloped, storyline) – which are undermined by the film’s unsatisfying cinematography and reliance on worn-out recreations of familiar horror set-ups. That said, if there’s one thing the film does right (note: it’s not the horror), it’s that Chernobyl Diaries will likely fascinate viewers with the real life Pripyat story – hopefully resulting in an increased viewership for a number of documentaries that have explored the abandoned city in greater detail.

If you’re still on the fence about Chernobyl Diaries, check out the trailer below:

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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Chernobyl Diaries is rated R for violence, some bloody images and pervasive language. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

1.5 out of 5
(Poor, A Few Good Parts)

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  1. I am American living in Kiev, 60 miles from Chernobyl. This movie sounds like a good idea done poorly. But the real event, in itself, is a horror movie, one that the Ukrainian people should have never had to experience. We wouldn’t be able to watch the horror that the people went through that day and since.

  2. I LOVED IT!

  3. Bad version of The Decent

  4. The movie has received lots of bad reviews. No matter. I enjoyed it. True, it was kind of hokey, but so what? It was fun. Money well spent.

  5. I finally got to see this movie. When people walk out 1/2 way through, you know there is a reason. It was kind of funny actually, the theater was full when we got there, by the time 50% of the movie was over, it was only 1/2 full. Not a good sign if you can not keep the audience interested enough to stay to the end..

    It was boring, predictable and a waste of money. Lacked imagination.

    My rating: -10 (Burn it)

  6. Just watched it for the first time. Unfortunately i found this site too late to save me from this waste. like mentioned, great potential, some parts had great suspense, but the predictability and the retard characters just ate the “d”.

  7. f****** Classic!!

  8. I loved it, and to say that there is no fear present among the actors is naive considering this was filmed in abandoned nazi tunnels used in ww1. Also the actors werent even warned before the humanoid-like “mutants” would pop out of the dark eerie tunnels, enabling the director to capture real scenes of terror among the actors. I was “on the edge of my seat” the entire movie, and found myself only wanting more when the credits rolled.

    • Oh honey….I do believe you mean WWII.

  9. Absolutely worth watching! The movie starts off by getting to know the characters then takes a hit for the worst. You really begin To wonder when the first pop up takes place and what is living in the abandoned town of Pripyat. I really think it was a good idea not To show the faces of these creatures because keeping it this way made people create In their own image of what these things look like. The shaky camera was a great twist. It really made you feel like you were right there with them. It made it feel real and scary as hell. The only problem I had was that SO many questions were left unanswered! You wonder what was in the water… If the crippled brother made it, and why the people at the end threw her in the chamber to be fed to the creatures. But I guess that’s for us to decide…

  10. Loved it…plenty of moments that made me jump….what I think of as a classic horror. Excellent entertainment.

  11. Well from my point of view, the movie is still enjoyable. And though it is kinda true that it is an idea poorly done, there is still the fear and suspense factor in it. Imagine not seeing the attacker’s whole form for almost the entire movie? That’s mystery for me. And no fear and suspense? Believe me, even the guys beside me in the cinema were having a hard time in concealing their fear. So for me, the movie is still enjoyable. Money well spent.

  12. i thought this movie was okay .shame the producers didnt do much with it .it could of been much better good story line crap ending

  13. It wasnt filmed on location, too dangerous. Read the producer’s interview here: http://www.examiner.com/article/chernobyl-diaries-q-a-oren-peli-talks-new-horror-film-paranormal-success

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  15. Yea hate to burst your bubble but this movie wasnt shot in Pripyat.
    They wanted to shot in the real town but,
    The gouverment didnt allow them in the area as tourist or filmmakers.

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  17. I enjoyed it, was a good movie.

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  20. I love movies with suspense and this had a lot of suspense, that is what I did like about it. However, it kept pissing me and all the opportunities they had to seriously get help they kept BSing. Overall, the movie wasn’t wonderful but loved the suspense.

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