When I first heard about the premise of Chernobyl Diaries, I was like Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street: "F*ck science!" Honestly, extreme tourism? People pay for a trip to Pripyat an abandoned city near the site of one of the worst nuclear disaster in history for some vacation photos? Well, it is possible, and people actually do it despite the lingering radiation and other serious dangers, but hopefully none of them are as painfully dumb as the characters in Diaries.
Jesse McCartney is Chris, the sensible little brother who really would have preferred to stick with the plan: a day trip to Moscow, where he'd pop the question to his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley). His older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) is a bit of a bad boy horndog with a taste for adventure, who insistst they and their recently dumped friend Amanda (Devin Kelly) go on an exciting trip to Pripyat instead. Amanda is also a photographer of sorts, because she has a fancy camera and is taking photos of everything. Other than that, we know almost nothing about any of the characters (although Paul does note that "the chicks are f*cking amazing"). They are later joined by Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), who prove to be equally forgettable. Paul knows how to party, so he leads Chris, Natalie, and Amanda to a sketchy office to set up their trip to Pripyat. The tour guide is named, what else, Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko), and he even has a dingy sign on the wall that reads "Yuri's Extreme Travel" and lots of photos of him in military garb. He's built like a brick house but he's no match for the ridiculousness that awaits them.
The build-up to what they do find is interminable, especially given what non-horrors await. At one point, I was hoping it would turn out to be something similar to The Happening, but no such luck. Just a bunch of bald zombie-types lurking in the mist and gnawing on human flesh! Although there's something to be said for leaving scary stuff lurking in the shadows, it's also a good idea to establish enough tension beforehand so that we actually care about what is supposed to be scaring us.
According to writer/producer Oren Peli, a good deal of the dialogue was improvised, which is a bit of a relief as the actors drop gems like, "What exactly happened in Chernobyl?" and "Nature has reclaimed its rightful home," as well as tidbits like "Stop being a p*ssy" and "Maybe there's a gun in here!" This is director Bradley Parker's first feature, and although he does occasionally have trouble keeping the camera steady, he doesn't rely on shaky-cam "found footage," for the most part.
Naturally, some people are offended that filmmakers would use a human tragedy as the backdrop of a horror movie, but plenty of movies use tragic events for fodder. They should be more offended that it's just so boring.