THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Chernobyl Diaries - available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 10/16!
Using the tragic events surrounding the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor as fodder for a horror movie is in questionable taste, but that's exactly what Chernobyl Diaries does. This is another entry in a familiar horror sub-genre, in which naive tourists end up taking a vacation from hell. (Turistas and The Ruins are two other examples.) If movies are to be believed, travel agents are the most untrustworthy people in the world.
The story centers around a guy named Chris (Jesse McCartney), who goes to Kiev to visit his brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski). Accompanying him are his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and her pal Amanda (Devin Kelly). Paul convinces them to go on an “extreme tourism” expedition to Pripyat, the abandoned city that played home to the Chernobyl disaster. The tour guide, Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), hooks them up with two other brave vacationers, and they all hop in a van. Discovering that the official road to Pripyat is closed by armed guards, Uri takes a back way in. The gang explores all of the abandoned buildings and carefully watches a Geiger counter to make sure they aren't absorbing too much leftover radiation. The van doesn't start when they return, though. Trapped inside it with no way to call for help, they soon discover that weird radiation people are still living there – and are apparently very hungry.
Chernobyl Diaries does a few things well. First and foremost, it creates an ominous atmosphere. Serbia and Hungary fill in for Pripyat. I don't know if the location manager just happened to find an abandoned city in one of those locations, or if the production built it from scratch; I just know that the place feels effectively eerie. Director Bradley Parker nicely creates a sense of isolation, taking full advantage of his first-rate locations. There are also one or two decent scares in the early going, the best involving a discovery made in a rundown apartment building.
In spite of some good elements, Chernobyl Diaries is ultimately undone a bit by its second half, which turns into a fairly routine outrun-the-monsters spook show. The characters do a number of the requisite Dumb Things that ensure their own doom, which may leave you screaming at the screen. The movie should have exploited the fear of radiation a lot more than it does, too. While it's mentioned a few times, Chernobyl Diaries fails to use it as another screw to tighten as the more visible threats manifest themselves.
In the end, this is neither a great nor a terrible horror flick. Its strengths make it worth paying attention to, while its weaknesses prevent it from becoming the first-class chiller it had the potential to be.
( out of four)
Chernobyl Diaries will be available on Blu-Ray combo pack and single disc DVD October 16. An UltraViolet copy of the movie comes included.
The bonus features on the Blu-Ray run a whopping seven minutes, so don't expect much depth. There's an alternate ending that is more logical but less effective than the theatrical ending. One deleted scene sets up Chris and Paul's reunion a little better; at under a minute, it's unclear why the sequence was trimmed. “Uri's Extreme Tours Infomercial” is a fake TV ad for the story's travel agent. Finally, there's “Chernobyl Conspiracy Viral Video,” a short that provides some real information about the nuclear meltdown before setting up the film's central premise.
Chernobyl Diaries is rated R for violence, some bloody images and pervasive language. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.
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