Director: Bradley Parker
Cast: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley
Running Time: 93 min
Release: 22 June
In 1986 a disastrous nuclear tragedy struck the Ukraine, when the Chernobyl power plant exploded releasing large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere. The results were catastrophic; radioactive fallout spread all over western europe, the town of Prypiat and surrounding areas were rendered uninhabitable, and the local population were transformed into radioactive mutant cannibals. Wait, what’s that you say, that last bit’s not true? Well I beg to differ, as this is the core conceit of Chernobyl Diaries, and why would a film with the word diaries in the title be anything less than 100% accurate?
Tacky, silly and borderline exploitative, Chernobyl Diaries is far from the probing and sympathetic survivor documentary that its odd misnomer of a title implies. A gallant bunch of backpacking American teenagers (it’d be a disservice to brain cells to recall the names of either the cast or characters) decide to engage in a bout of extreme tourism in the long abandoned city of Prypiat. They are accompanied on this ill conceived expedition by a Norwegian couple and their guide Uri, though fear not – he’s ex military, so everything will be brilliant. But alas, things take a turn for the worse when the group find themselves stranded in a city that’s less abandoned than it first appeared.
It is immediately apparent that Chernobyl Diaries had been conceived as a found footage film. The notion was presumably ditched some way into production, most likely due to the audiences weariness with the style, leaving the film sporting many of the genres tropes; shaky cam and point of view shots, though not constrained by its typical narrative shoehorns. The overall effect is slightly confused, though considering the cliched writing and unconvincing cast, it would undoubtedly have strained credulity to pass these events off as in anyway real.
The film’s greatest asset is undoubtedly its ability to generate a consistently unsettling atmosphere, helped no end by its hauntingly barren urban setting. Drawing inspiration from many a horror classic and a clearly minute budget, the creatures are only glimpsed in low light and for seconds at a time, lending an effective layer of the unknown to what are essentially angry dogs and wobbly extras in flaky makeup. The atmosphere dissipates as the film draws to a close however, as the character start to pursue their own demise with commendable purpose, and the whole thing predictably descends into a 20 minute radioactive cannibal fueled stumble through the dark.
Setting aside its debatably crude nature, Chernobyl Diaries actually gets a surprising amount right. It’s a fun film with a unique setting, and despite its inherent sillyness standing in direct contrast to just how serious it takes itself, it manages to generate enough tension to keep you involved. One word of warning though, leave even your basest notion of how radiation actually works at the door, because this film hasn’t a clue.