By Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers –
Other than the setting, there’s little about “Chernobyl Diaries” to distinguish it from all of the other horror films where a group of good-looking people find themselves in a deadly situation and make silly decisions as they are picked off one by one. As with so many of these films, it’s not the destination but the journey that either makes or breaks the movie.
The journey here has six tourists taking a trip to the abandoned city of Pripyat. This was once the home for the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor until the accident left the area lifeless. The extreme tourist spot goes bad when the group’s van won’t start and they soon realize the city is not as abandoned as they thought.
Horror films take one of two scary paths. There are those movies, such as “Nightmare on Elm Street,” where you know exactly who — or what — is trying to frighten the bejeebers out of you. Then there are movies, such as “Paranormal Activity,” where the source of the terror is only hinted at until the end.
It makes sense that the things that go bump in the night in “Chernobyl Diaries” aren’t revealed until late in the film since it was written by Oren Peli, director of “Paranormal Activity.”
The problem with this structure is that there’s no opportunities for confrontation through the first 80 percent of the movie. That means all the cast can do is run and scream at the brief glimpses of the terror we get to see. First-time director Bradley Parker does a competent enough job of building tension, but he has everyone running toward a predictable ending.
Even the film’s name is misleading. Using the word “Diaries” in the title would suggest the movie’s structure would be similar to the “found footage” style of “The Blair Witch Project.” But there’s no video or written log of what happens.
As for the fodder for slaughter, it’s a cookie-cutter cast that offers the brave, the scared and the stupid. It doesn’t help that the best actor of the bunch, Jesse McCartney, gets sidelined early.
If you have any hopes of enjoying the film, leave your brain at the concession stand. Peli ignores quick solutions — such as a van full of people with cell phones who never try to call for help — to keep the story moving ahead. It takes that kind of mindless approach if you have any hope of enjoying “Chernobyl Diaries.” Otherwise, it’s a huge meltdown.
Rated R for language, gore, violence.
Stars Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Olivia Dudley, Ingrid Bolso Berdal.
Directed by Bradley Parker.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.