Chernobyl Diaries movie poster
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Chernobyl Diaries movie poster

Chernobyl Diaries Movie Review

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Just when you think we've moved past the belief that radioactive waste can cause mutated monsters, along comes Chernobyl Diaries, a silly albeit not entirely misguided horror movie from the writer of Paranormal Activity.

In Chernobyl Diaries, a bunch of young, attractive tourists decide to travel into the heart of the world's greatest nuclear disaster, because that seems like a smart thing to do (in fairness, despite the continued high levels of radiation at Chernobyl, it would be an interesting place to visit). After their car breaks down, of course, they are picked off one by one by an unseen force.

Chernobyl Diaries relies heavily on a concept that is almost good, but isn't. A horror movie set in Chernobyl would have worked best a few years after the disaster took place; we know enough about radiation these days to know that mutated fish, dogs, bears and other creatures are not the likeliest of scenarios. The concept may still have worked except co-writers Oren Peli and Carey and Shane Van Dyke approach it too casually, with too little regard for believability.

It's a shame, because there is an adequate idea buried somewhere within Chernobyl Diaries. Aside from the lack of believability - which with the right scares could have been forgiven - the film's biggest problem is its lack of a cohesive threat. Chernobyl Diaries spends too long dwelling on dangerous animals when it should have played out more like a Russian version of The Hills Have Eyes, with the focus on the mutated inhabitants of the deserted city. The movie treats them like ghosts in some scenes - they appear and disappear in an instant - and zombies in others. It's never clear whether they can be killed. Wouldn't it have been more interesting if they had some degree of intelligence? Why would the Russian government accommodate them? Hide them?

Story aside, Chernobyl Diaries isn't particularly scary, though there are a few moments that come close. While far from groundbreaking, director Bradley Parker holds his own and, given a better story to execute, could have had a winner on his hands. There have been far worse horror movies over the years.

Still, it's impossible not to acknowledge the potential wasted in Chernobyl Diaries. The filmmakers opted to appeal to the lowest common denominator rather than take the concept to a more intriguing level.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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