Review: CHERNOBYL DIARIES (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 9 September 2012


RATING: 2.5/5

When I first came across the trailer of CHERNOBYL DIARIES, I predicted this would be just another PARANORMAL ACTIVITY-like knockoff especially the movie was written and produced by Oren Peli himself. And of course, there's the usual shaky-cam aesthetics. But after finally watching this movie, I was surprised that Bradley Parker's directorial debut is somehow worthwhile. While the movie is still suffered from tried-and-tested cliches, it does offers some genuine suspense to keep the genre fans satisfied.

Upon arrival in Kiev, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his longtime girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and her best friend Amanda (Devin Kelly) visit Chris's older brother Paul (Jonathan Sandowski). Now that they are here, Paul wants to show them a truly good time by taking them on an "extreme tour" guided by Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) to the abandoned city of Pripyat, once home to the workers and families of the 1986 Chernobyl power plant disaster. They are joined by two backpackers Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) along for the tour.

Once there, they are assured that radiation levels are low enough for them to wander around the abandoned town to take photographs and sightseeing as well. It was fun at first, until the unfortunate moment when Uri's van fails to start. What's even worse is that someone or something has tampered the wire. As Uri tries hard to get outside help via walkie-talkie, night falls and things start to get creepy. What follows next is a series of unexplained circumstances -- Uri goes missing and gunshots are heard. Chris gets seriously injured in the process, and the rest of them have to think of a way out of the abandoned town as soon as possible.

From the narrative standpoint, Oren Peli, Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke's screenplay is strictly formulaic. But what makes most of this movie works is Bradley Parker's taut direction. Despite his past experience being a special effects supervisor and a second-unit director (e.g. 2010's LET ME IN), he knows how to work out some potent shocks. Blessed with partially on-location shot that gives the movie a sense of authenticity, the entire setting feels natural and genuinely creepy. Parker also understands one of the frightening aspects in horror-movie genre is the fear of the unknown. Here, he doesn't rely on elaborate gore effects to make the horror presence felt but instead, he brilliantly uses suggestive moments to keep the viewers on the edge of their seats. Such suspenseful scenes including the one where they encounter an unexpected big something charging into a desolate apartment, scene involving a pack of ravenous dogs, a cat-and-mouse game in the kitchen, and a breathless chase in the finale throughout an industrial landscape -- are simply enthralling experience.

The cast are also surprisingly competent, even though there are many times their characters are called upon to do stupid things (you know, those horror cliches you often come across). Pop singer Jesse McCartney shines as a highly-sensible younger brother Chris, while Jonathan Sadowski is perfectly typecast as an irresponsible jerk with a heart of gold. The rest of the supporting actors are equally good as well, but I must say it was Dimitri Diatchenko who steals most of the show with his commanding performance as an ex-Special Forces tough guy, Uri.

At the brief running time of 86 minutes, the movie is competently paced. There are times the movie tends to get annoying with some unnecessary shaky-cam aesthetics (note that this movie isn't a found-footage type after all), while the ending is kind of cop-out. Let's just say Oren Peli gets overly ambitious by stretching the plot with a surprise twist that fails to deliver satisfying payoff. It is this disappointment that might left the viewers feeling frustrated.

Although inconsistent, CHERNOBYL DIARIES remains a worthy entry for a low-budget horror movie.

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