Fish, and dogs, and bears, oh my. It’s ninety minutes of bumps, and shadows all leading in to basically nothing but a movie that doesn’t even deliver the money shots as far as “The Hills Have Eyes” wannabes go. Maybe they’re saving it for a sequel somewhere down the line? If you’re looking for some vicious mutants attacking silly Americans on a tour, “Chernobyl Diaries” never seems to be sure how to handle its premise. It never seems to try to gratuitous, so it skimps out on literally everything that could have made this a disturbing film, altogether. There’s little to no bloodshed to be had, most of the action is either implied or off-screen in to the darkness, and as far as monsters go? If you want to see some annoying wild dogs chase after our heroes for thirty minutes, then this might be up your alley. The confusing aspect of “Chernobyl Diaries” is that it’s been lumped in with all of the other recent found footage titles, but in reality it isn’t.
Perhaps it’s by virtue of the fact that Oren Peli, creator of “Paranormal Activity” writes and producers, but director Brad Parker doesn’t format the film as found footage. It’s easy to understand since Parker mostly directs like he’s at a family function, walking around sets and shaking the camera to create a false sense of tension and suspense, and fails spectacularly. The film even opens with an establishing shot of our tourists walking around with cameras as to infer we’re in for something like “Cloverfield.” Basically “Chernobyl Diaries” makes use of a Chernobyl setting to induce the classic horror themes of xenophobia and hapless American tourists. Basically it’s just Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes” but set in Moscow. When tour guide Yuri takes his group of tourists to Pripya for a visit, they’re all turned away mysteriously. Yuri, not wanting a bad reputation, sneaks his group in to the town and experience mysterious occurrences like dead animals, and a lone bear that nearly mauls the group. When they discover their van has been sabotaged, the group is stranded and are soon being hunted.
Considering the circumstances explained in the final ten minutes, how did the individuals in the town organize so quickly? What was their goal keeping the group of tourists in the town with them? Were they cannibals? Were the dogs their scouts? How long were they in the town to train wild dogs? Why didn’t the government want anyone to know about the big revelation? What about the other Chernobyl sights? For a film that garners such a haunting setting, nothing much happens at all during the run time. There’s an abundance of walking and running, some implied brutality, but nothing ever occurs to keep the audience watching except for a big reveal of the things lurking in the dark. When the time comes for the big reveal, it’s a hackneyed mess that avoids any and all real terror in exchange for a goofy final shot that fails to resolve anything about the plot or characters that have just died.
Featured in the Blu-Ray is a minute long faux commercial for “Uri’s Extreme Tours” that boasts about visiting Moscow and the abandoned Chernobyl. There’s a two minute play by play of the basics of the Chernobyl disaster, a minute long deleted scene that adds nothing to an already under developed movie, and a terrible two minute alternate ending that makes the definitive ending look genius. It’s all one big dry hump of a horror movie with no grue, no suspense, and no money shots for movie fans to chew on. For a film with such a unique setting you assume the director would get the most out of it, and alas, there’s nothing but many empty scares and zero resolution.