Grindhouse garbage that feeds off an authentic human tragedy, this latest haunted-house movie from Oren Peli of “Paranormal Activity” fame is both tasteless and incredibly dull. Of course in this case the house in question is the deserted city of Pripyat, where the workers at the nuclear plant in the Ukraine lived, along with their families, until the 1986 disaster in which one of the four reactors exploded, requiring immediate evacuation of the area, which eventually was completely sealed off due to radiation contamination. It became a wasteland of abandoned buildings.
The “heroes” of the picture are actually a bunch of Western nitwits visiting Europe who decide to accept the offer of Kiev “extreme tour” specialist Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) to briefly visit Pripyat, despite its being walled off from the world. The sextet include Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), a jerk who for some reason lives in Ukraine, and his younger brother Chris (Jesse McCartney), along with Chris’ girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley). Joining them is another couple, bearded Michael (Nathan Phillips) and his squeeze Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal). After sneaking into the eerily quiet city and walking about a bit—with the nuclear plant in the distance—they find their van out of commission as night falls.
What follows is nearly an hour of the group huddling in the van as it’s attacked by wild dogs and wandering about looking for one another in disheveled buildings and gloomy forests. At one point they have to dodge a bear that’s broken into one structure; at another they examine a mutated fish that’s washed onto shore (not quite as scary as the ones that populate the waters beside the Springfield nuclear plant on “The Simpsons”). One by one they’re picked off by marauders, initially animals and then grotesquely disfigured humanoids that turn out to be…well, I suppose we’re not supposed to reveal what passes for a twist at the end, but proves to be a really damp squib.
It’s hard to muster any sympathy for this bunch of idiots; you’re likely to feel more sympathy for yourself as you sit glumly watching them blundering through kitchens and courtyards, running from hounds, and falling into streams as they try to cross rickety bridges. A little of this sort of thing goes a long way, but in the end it’s all the filmmakers have to offer. And the ending, which I won’t reveal here, proves every bit as disappointing as the one in “The Devil Inside,” another clunker supreme.
“Chernobyl Diaries” is, of course, an incredibly cheap picture, and looks it. The cinematography by Morten Seborg is of the crudely hand-held variety, almost calculated to cause nausea in viewers. (Happily, the story is at least told in the form of a regular narrative, rather than via the tired “found footage” format, but the look isn’t much different.) The acting is what you’d expect—on the level of what you’ll find in any crummy horror movie shown on the SyFy network.
It is, to be sure, interesting to see the actual Pripyat, where some of the scenes were filmed. But rather than pay any real mind to the human suffering that look place there, “Chernobyl Diaries” merely uses it as background for a pedestrian, predictable shlock-fest in which the only ”gotcha” that works is the one that might lure unsuspecting viewers into wasting ten bucks to see it.