By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Chernobyl Diaries is an effectively creepy horror thriller, an intense exercise in terror.
Six thrill-seeking American vacationers, wanting to experience “extreme tourism” while visiting Europe, follow a whim and soon find themselves in Pripyat, a crumbling city affected by radiation, now abandoned following a rushed evacuation, near the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, where most of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant workers and their families lived 25 years ago.
Now, long after the explosion of Reactor 4, when toxic levels of radiation were spewed into the town and its surroundings, Pripyat is a ghost town.
But the intrepid travelers are told that if they’re accompanied by a tour guide, avoid certain areas, and don’t stay too long, they’ll be fine.
Uh huh. Welcome to the horror-flick universe.
Unsurprisingly, then, not only do the six twentysomethings end up stranded here, they realize that they’re being hunted by strange creatures who have mutated as a result of radiation exposure. So they begin to hike to the outer regions.
Jess McCarthy, Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelly, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips, and Ingrid Bolso Berdal play the “vacationers,” while Dimitri Diatchenko is the tour guide they’ve hired.
Director Bradley Parker, a visual effects supervisor making his directorial debut, works from a screenplay by producer Oren Peli along with Carey and Shane Van Dyke.
The makers don’t go the “found footage” route this time, but come pretty close to achieving a natural, documentary-like tone with handheld camerawork and subjective point-of-view cinematography.
The level of paranoid tension starts and remains at a high level throughout, mostly because director Parker honors the truism that it’s not what we see but what we think we see and are afraid to see that actually scares us. That’s why he opens with a nod to normality and a slow, patient build, and then has us perusing the corners of the frame as if our very lives depended on it. Thus the audience’s bursts of tension-release laughter.
Co-writer and producer Peli made his mark with the clever and legitimately frightening Paranormal Activity shockers. Here he offers a unique location that is, in essence, the main character in the movie.
And although, like its pretty much interchangeable human characters, the script gets more or less trapped there when it’s time to pay us off as to why we’ve been watching and lacks a truly satisfying ending, it’s certainly been to that point a compelling and disturbing ride for horror buffs.
In addition, the film has come to the marketplace embroiled in controversy, the producers answering accusations that it sensationalizes the nuclear disaster and exploits the hundreds of thousands of victims with the rejoinder that it actually shines light on a tragedy too easily forgotten.
So we’ll radiate 2½ stars out of 4 for the haunting supernatural chillfest, Chernobyl Diaries. Its skillful manipulation of the unseen just might scare the cheese right out of your danish.