FROM OREN PELI, CREATOR OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
These five words instantly had me interested in Chernobyl Diaries. A film with an interesting premise, a beautifully drab color palette, and a screenplay written by Oren Peli, the mind behind the Paranormal Activity? It had to be a surefire slam dunk, right? Think again.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day Chernobyl Diaries is a film that falls well short of capitalizing upon its substantial promise. Where did it all go wrong?
Chernobyl Diaries follows six twenty-somethings and their extreme tourism guide to Pripyat, former home of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers and their families before the eponymous disaster drove them from their homes and contaminated the surrounding area. However, things quickly begin to go awry and the group realize that, despite potentially unsafe radiation levels, they may not be alone in Pripyat.
Say what you will about the Paranormal Activity films, but they always did a fantastic job of building tension. Watching Peli’s previous films, I constantly found myself covered with goosebumps and holding my breath as I waited for the next supernatural scare. Chernobyl Diaries, in stark contrast, builds some initial tension but then quickly loses steam about halfway through its brisk 88 minute runtime. Undeniably, some of the lack of tension can be attributed to the conscious decision to eschew the “found footage” style in favor of a much more traditional style. While opinions on the “found footage” style in general vary, I, for one, certainly didn’t have nearly the same visceral reaction to the frights on screen as I did for a film like Apollo 18.
The rest of the blame for the lacking tension must be shared by first-time director Bradley Parker, screenwriter Oren Peli, and the cast. Not only are the vast majority of the characters unlikeable, but it felt like most of the actors playing them simply showed up to collect their paychecks. Chris, played by Jesse McCartney, is particularly whiney and irritating. His arguments with his egomaniacal older brother Paul, played, in a surprisingly effective performance, by Jonathan Sadowsky, ring hollow and only served to make me hope for his swift death. The two female leads, Natalie and Amanda, played by Olivia Dudley and Devin Kelley, respectively, are both shrill and grating. Luckily, Nathan Phillips delivers a believable, albeit admittedly limited, performance as Michael, an Australian tourist along for the ride. In making Chernobyl Diaries, director Bradley Parker needed to make his audience feel the characters’ terror and want to sympathize with them or, at the very least, develop a vested interest in their safety. Unfortunately, he fails on all counts.
At the end of the day, Chernobyl Diaries just isn’t a very good film. There is very little tension, the characters are almost unilaterally unappealing, and, when finally revealed, the film’s “scary” creatures are laughable. Had this film not been marketed so heavily as being from the mind of Oren Peli, I may have been more forgiving. As it stands, though, Chernobyl Diaries squanders its interesting premise and delivers what ultimately amounts to wholly forgettable film.