Chernobyl Diaries melts down with formulaic fearmaking
Starring Devin Kelley, Jonathan Sadowski, and Olivia Dudley. Rated 14A. Now playing.
As a scared-shitless fan of the Paranormal Activity films, I had high hopes for Chernobyl Diaries, which is based on a story by PA creator Oren Peli. Too bad this routine shockfest is not even in the same league as Peli's demonic nightmare maker.
The movie starts off okay, shades of Eli Roth's Hostel, as freewheeling 20ish travellers Natalie and Amanda (Olivia Dudley and Devin Kelley) are seen gallivanting at all the tourist stops in Europe with Natalie¹s boyfriend, Chris (pop star Jesse McCartney). They wind up in Kiev with Chris's cocky live-wire brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), who suggests they change their plans of hitting Moscow next and take an "extreme tourism" jaunt to Chernobyl instead. Yeah, I thought it was a bad idea too.
Against Chris's better judgement, they hook up with Russian tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), a former special-forces soldier, who loads the quartet--and one other backpacking couple--into his van and heads off. Along the way, ominous occurences--like a monstrously mutated fish dying on a riverbank--foster tension, and by the time the tour arrives at a dilapidated apartment complex left barren by Chernobyl evacuees, the film appears headed to a good place.
But after one effective scene involving a radiated Russian bear, the quality of first-time director Bradley Parker¹s narrative starts melting down like a TEPCO facility. People march off by themselves into the dark, and soon after everything dissolves into a frenzied and formulaic mishmash of infection/mutation flicks like 28 Days Later and The Hills Have Eyes.
When it gets to the point where characters are spouting likes like, "We gotta get outta here or the radiation will kill us!" you know it's time for the cold shutdown.