With the faux-verité aesthetics of [Rec], the American-tourists-in-Eastern-European-hell setup of Hostel, and the brain of a mushy radioactive mutant zombie thingie, Chernobyl Diaries is little more than decomposed horror leftovers. Visiting brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) in Kiev along with girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and her newly single friend, Amanda (Devin Kelley), Chris (Jesse McCartney) has his plans to propose sabotaged when Paul convinces the group to go on an “extreme tourism” jaunt to Chernobyl courtesy of sketchy ex-military guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko). The twentysomething Yanks’ view of a foreign national disaster as a sightseeing opportunity marks them as callous, and early intimations that the entire trip is a trap being set by Uri are quickly erased by unexpected encounters with a rampaging bear and feral dogs. No surprise given how these things usually go, Uri’s van breaks down and, shortly thereafter, he disappears during a nighttime attack that also leaves Chris badly wounded, thus motivating the rest of the group, which includes backpacking couple Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Michael (Nathan Phillips), to venture out into the wasteland of the abandoned town where Chernobyl’s workers and families lived—a locale that director Bradley Parker shoots as a series of monotonous communist-era concrete barracks encased in dust and designed solely with narrow passageways.
Chernobyl Diaries‘s titular locale proves a pedestrian wasteland, yet even less tolerable is Parker’s direction, which affects the shaky handheld style of innumerable caught-on-video horror sagas (including, to some extent, producer and co-writer Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity films), without ever going through the trouble of even pretending that a character is responsible for the cruddy, bumpy cinematography. With the cast’s performances as shrill as the fatality pecking order is predictable, it’s impossible to resist actively awaiting these ciphers’ demises, which take an unreasonably long time to begin occurring, as the story is too busy forcing them to investigate derelict buildings and buses where they can open doors to loud fake-out-scare noises. Unfortunately, pining for Chris and company’s deaths involves attempting to root for the radiation-transformed monsters that roam Chernobyl. And that, ultimately, is also an extremely difficult proposition, considering their illogical conception (one minute, the fiends are stealthily nabbing victims, the next they’re trudging after their prey with no guile and all the fleetness of a disabled geriatric) and the fact that, when Parker isn’t too busy whipping his camera back and forth to conceal their lame appearances, they turn out to resemble bald, man-sized rip-offs of the unholy baby from It’s Alive.