Jesse McCartney - Chris
Jonathan Sadowski - Paul
Devin Kelley - Amanda
Olivia Taylor Dudley - Natalie
Nathan Phillips - Michael
Ingrid Bolso Berdal - Zoe
Dimitri Diatchenko - Uri
Genre - Horror/Survival
Running Time - 87 Minutes
Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and her best friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) visit Chris' older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in Russia. Wanting to share something memorable and fun with his younger brother, Paul invites them all to join him in visiting the site of 1986's Chernobyl nuclear disaster - much to Chris and Natalie's reluctance. After meeting their tour guide, Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), and a newlywed couple (Nathan Phillips and Ingrid Bolso Berdal), they all trespass national security in order to tour this radioactive ghost town. Once the tour is over, they realize that they're transportation has been destroyed. But by whom? And if there are others, what will kill them first - the residents of Chernobyl, or the radiation itself?
CHERNOBYL DIARIES is a film I had missed out on in 2012. And it was intentional, as the trailers and TV spots really did nothing to catch my interest. I also heard some pretty negative things from friends who had seen it, so I was obviously in no rush. However, I caught it on HBO a couple of weeks ago and managed to DVR it. And after watching it, I'm glad I didn't play $14 to watch this in theaters. It's not a terrible movie, but there's nothing about it that really stands out or requires a repeated viewing.
If you've seen the trailers, you can pretty much guess that CHERNOBYL DIARIES is THE HILLS HAVE EYES, but in Russia. I'm not mad at that really. If you're going to rip off another horror film, at least make it a good one. And honestly, I actually like the fact that Chernobyl was used for the setting, as it makes sense for the set up. It's a real life historic tragedy that not many people talk about anymore. But I'm sure it affected a lot of people and the radiation did do a number on them, especially if you think about it in horror terms. What would these people look like after this disaster, and how would the radiation effect their offspring? It's a pretty classic horror set up that I don't mind.
It's unfortunate that the story doesn't do more with that, instead going the safe route and offering nothing but predictable, generic, and been-there-done-that moments that you won't seriously remember after the film is over. You get the classic stranded tourists being hunted down by mutant survivors of a radioactive disaster. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm surprised it took four writers [including Oren Peli of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY fame] to write such predictable fluff. There's nothing here you haven't seen before. If the story had added some sort of twist, or had characters that enhance the entertainment value, this wouldn't be much of an issue. But everything about CHERNOBYL DIARIES screenplay is bland and just "there". It's paint by numbers stuff, and nothing ever gets drawn out of the lines.
I think what got to me most were the characters. As a screenwriter, I love specializing on interesting characters that enhance the story, whether or not it's generic or been seen before. But all these characters didn't do much for me really. They all had distinct personalities, which I appreciated, but they were too stupid to really root for. I mean, once anyone decides it's a great idea to visit Chernobyl to take photos, forgetting that being there could kill you due to the radiation level, I lose all sympathy for them. Especially when they're told "no" and decide to take a shortcut through there anyway. And the characters I did like [I won't spoil them here] are the ones who bite the dust first, leaving me with the ones I least care about. What the hell? It doesn't help that the dialogue is fairly conventional and you can see the outcome a mile away. CHERNOBYL DIARIES just runs too close to the rule book to really be anything remotely interesting. That's not a bad thing, since you'll enjoy the film if you like this sort of thing. But if I'm gonna watch a HILLS HAVE EYES ripoff, I'm gonna watch THE HILLS HAVE EYES - either version. At least I felt connected to the characters and their situation in both the original and the remake. With CHERNOBYL DIARIES, it was "whatever". The story was just too safe and too bland.
For those expecting blood and gore in CHERNOBYL DIARIES, you're gonna be seriously disappointed. While I don't think blood and guts are needed in a horror movie, the presence of some would have greatly enhanced this film's experience. But nope. All we get is a messed up leg and some blood here and there. That's it. Most of the kills or attacks happen OFF-SCREEN. Why??? If you're going to go for it, go full broke. Pretty lame, in my opinion.
The direction by Brad Parker was alright. The film is shot like a found footage movie, but it's not at all. It's mainly due to Parker using a handheld camera for the entire film, as if someone is documenting the events. It didn't really bother me and some of the shots in the film were actually nice. But honestly, it just made the film look cheap. I would have rather this have been a found footage movie, just so there was a purpose for Parker doing handheld shots. Also, there's not much tension or suspense in the film. Only one moment made me jump, which involved a bear that came out of nowhere. That was probably the most fun I had watching CHERNOBYL DIARIES. But other than that, it just went through the motions. Hell, we only see the mutants in the shadows. And when they attack people, it's either in the dark or off-screen. Some shots create a claustrophobic vibe, but they don't happen enough. I did like the dull color look of the film though. The visuals had their moments, but pretty tame in my opinion.
The acting is what it is. All of them are decent and none of them give a bad performance. I thought Dimitri Diatchenko as Uri was the standout, as he gave a fun and energetic performance. Jonathan Sadowski was very good too as misguided Paul. Devin Kelley had her moments as Amanda. The most famous person here is pop artist Jesse McCartney. He was pretty okay as well. Thankfully CHERNOBYL DIARIES had a decent cast to keep me engaged more than I should have been.
THE FINAL HOWL
My expectations were met with CHERNOBYL DIARIES, meaning I wasn't expecting all that much to begin with. The acting is decent, the direction could have been better but it wasn't terrible, and it has a premise that's always fun to watch. But the film played it way too safe with its screenplay and showing the actual terror of the situation. It's not a found footage film, but it looks like a found footage film. I'm not sure what this film really wanted to be, which is unfortunate. Not the worst rip off to THE HILLS HAVE EYES ever, but not a film you'll remember once it's over. Pretty much the epitome of "average" and "meh".