Chernobyl Diaries Review
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Oren Peli seems to have become the Next Big Thing in horror. Since making a splash in 2009 with his low-budget found-footage thriller, Paranormal Activity, he’s gotten involved in everything from creating a Paranormal Activity franchise to producing a short-lived TV series. But his latest production, director Bradley Parker’s Chernobyl Diaries, isn’t likely to have horror fans screaming for more.

The film follows a trio of pretty young American tourists—Chris (Jesse McCartney), girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and friend Amanda (Devin Kelley)—on a carefree European adventure. When they stop in Kiev to visit Chris’s brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), though, he convinces them to postpone their trip to Moscow and go on an extreme tour instead.

Led by gruff tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), the four friends join a couple of others on a tour of Pripyat, the deserted city that was once home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Though they’re informed that the city is closed for some sort of maintenance, they sneak in through a back entrance. But when their van breaks down and darkness falls on the city, they begin to realize that it may not be as deserted as they once thought.

Chernobyl Diaries is certainly a creepy movie, but it isn’t the scare-a-minute kind of thriller that dives right into the action, grabbing viewers by the throat and dragging them through the action. Instead, it begins slowly, needlessly developing the characters’ relationships and following them on their various European excursions. Eventually, though, Parker begins setting the stage for the horrors to come. In fact, thanks to the city’s haunting emptiness, the characters’ first few hours in Pripyat make for some of the film’s eeriest moments.

While many horror movies use graphic murder and mayhem to terrify audiences, though, Chernobyl Diaries relies on the unseen—on the things that take place off-camera—for its scares. As characters come under attack, the details are left to the imagination: are they victims of hungry wild dogs or something more terrifying?

At first, the secrecy is effective—and the fact that you don’t really see anything will keep you eager to see more. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t come. Instead of witnessing escalating attacks and eventually getting a glimpse of the city’s horrors, you end up watching as the characters wander around the city, becoming increasingly terrified of whatever it is that may or may not be stalking them. It’s a movie filled with vicious dogs and paranoia—and not a whole lot more. And even when the mysterious attackers do eventually show their faces, the action is too dark and shaky to see much of anything.

Though the film gets a few extra points for its unexpected ending, the rest of Chernobyl Diaries is dull and uneventful—just the same macho guys and hysterical girls on the run from an unseen threat. It’s a horror film with a whole lot of build-up and very little pay-off.

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