Chernobyl Diaries comes close to succeeding, but in the end it fails to deliver on a promising build up.
Chernobyl Diaries comes close to succeeding, but in the end it fails to deliver on a promising build up. When I saw the preview months ago I laughed off the idea of tourists getting the chance to tour an area of the Ukraine that had been decimated by radiation about 25 years ago. These tours were a part of something called “Extreme Tourism”. I actually did some research after the film to find out that these tours are in fact real tours one can do.
Jesse McCartney (yes that former child pop star Jesse McCartney) stars as an American tourist, Chris, who is currently trekking across Europe from one exotic city to another with his girlfriend, Natalie and their friend Amanda. They are on their way to meet up with his brother, Paul, who is currently living in the Ukraine. Chris is getting ready to (surprise, surprise) propose to his girlfriend. Something Paul, who loves his bachelor life, doesn’t agree with.
While in the Ukraine, the four of them check out the night life and in one instance almost get into a fight with some locals. Paul then suggests they do something that most people would overlook. That something is a tour of Chernobyl. If you’re not brushed up on your world history, during the mid-80’s a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl had a meltdown that caused a lot of deaths and made the area basically inhabitable. Dense pockets of radiation permeate the area making death inevitable if you stay for a certain amount of time.
Thankfully their tour guide on this journey has a Geiger counter with him at all times. The slightest hint of radiation and it goes off. Now they can venture as far as they want without much risk. Before they leave though a couple who have been backpacking together for a month, walk into the office and decide to join the group. This doesn’t add any other textures to the film in terms of characters, just makes the body count higher.
Chernobyl happens to be about 2 hours outside of the city and once they arrive at the gates, guards usher them in the other direction. No visitors today. But Uri, their tour guide, says he knows another way in. And thus we are off again to find the other way in.
The setting where the film was shot is desolate and depressing. Shot in nearby Hungary and Serbia (I’m guessing shooting on location in Chernobyl would’ve made for a difficult time) in wastelands of crumbled buildings that are so broken down that I thought for sure they could fall at any moment. The locations are great and give the film a note of authenticity.
They walk around the dilapidated city for hours. I can’t imagine walking around a city that is no more. The shots of the group walking the city are astonishingly quiet. This sets up real tension for what’s to come. As it starts to get dark out, the group head back to the van they arrived in to depart and guess what, the van won’t start. This is where the film starts to get good. The group soon finds out that they are not alone. There are things (which I won’t hint at) that are after them and that want them dead.
Unfortunately, this all starts way too late in the film. While I generally have no issues with films taking their time building up their final acts, Chernobyl Diaries is a short film and it takes up the better part of its running time doing so. Running only a mere 80 minutes, the film spends a good 50 to 60 minutes building up to its finale. And to be honest the final 20 minutes do not do any of the prior 50 of the film any justice.
If anything the film should’ve been another 20 minutes longer. Giving the film more time at the end could’ve inflicted more scares on the audience. What is nice about the final half of the film is that there are not a lot of cheap scares that populate the film. Instead the film relies on scary background noises and shadows to perpetrate its damage on the audience. But again, any of this tension the film wanted is ruined by the long build up and short climax.
All of this is unfortunate because rarely do you see a horror film these days take so much time constructing its setting as well as Chernobyl Diaries does. The premise is a good one. The setting is original. Some of the scares are well put together. But man does it a take a long time to really go anywhere. It’s really too bad because that anywhere turns out to be nowhere.