Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli seems to be on a roll this year, churning out more movies than the average Hollywood producer/director. But as the saying goes — Strike while the iron is hot, and this is precisely what he has been doing. This time though, he comes up with the story and screenplay based on the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia which affected 500,000 workers and their families, which up until this day is surrounded by conspiracy theories and urban legends.
A group of friends Chris (Jesse McCartney), Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley)and Amanda (Devin Kelley) decide to tour Europe and visit Chris’s big brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in Kiev, Ukraine before hitting their last stop in Moscow. But Paul, who is used to throwing caution to the wind, convinces the group to shelf their plans to embark on an extreme tour to the abandoned town of Prypiat, which was evacuated overnight following the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986. Accompanied by newlywed adventurers Michael (Nathan Philips) and Zoe (Ingrid Berdal), they are guided by ex military Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), who operates the tour. Several hours after they get to the town, however, Uri begins to suspect that something is wrong and tries to get his group to safety. But somebody, or something has tampered with with their transportation and they are left stuck in the ghost town, where more than radioactive animals lurk, and radiation levels grow higher with each hour they are stranded in the town.
As is custom with Oren Peli’s trademark, there is some found footage elements in the film. Gladly, this does not account for a major portion of the movie. Still, the camera treatment is still reminiscent of a documentary as the filmmakers seem to have something against tripods and steadying equipment and prefer instead to follow the actors around like a third person in the movie. In a way, this serves the purpose of providing a sense of urgency in the movie, especially when the group is being pursued by unknown elements, but at the same time, it is quite annoying to follow the camera’s jerky movements during the attacks.
Pacing-wise, I have to commend first-time director Bradley Parker, who has worked as a digital artist in films such as Fight Club, and Let Me In, in his first outing. While the film was mostly enveloped in silence, he has managed to make audiences feel the eeriness of the atmosphere and not bore them with all of the walking and running, and talking. He also succeeds in making audiences feel a connection to the characters although they play the classic stereotypes of typical horror movies, mainly because of Paul’s transition from happy go lucky partygoer to responsible big brother (as illustrated with his panic when he found his brother hurt). This, more than anything, was the best part of the movie for me.
Seeing the Chernobyl Diaries simply reinforced my conviction that when traveling to an unknown location, where one does not understand the language. It is always best to be prepared. After seeing this movie and Hostel, I am not traveling to non-English speaking parts of Europe without a switchblade and survival essentials a la Bear Grylls.
All in all, Chernobyl Diaries was a pretty good movie. I only wish that Oren Peli will end one of his stories in a different manner lest he be tagged a one trick pony.