Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
Directed by Brad Parker
How many times has this happened to you: You're sitting there having a great time with your friends when all of a sudden one of them brings up an idea that sounds great on paper but could potentially lead to disaster in reality. Nine times out of ten you'll yield to peer pressure and throw your common sense to the wind. Chernobyl Diaries is a perfect example of why, no matter what, you should never let yourself be talked into anything.
While visiting his brother, Paul (Sadowski), in Russia, Chris (McCartney), his girlfriend, and her best friend let Paul talk them into visiting the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. They hook up with their extreme tour guide, Uri (a scene stealing Diatchenko), and head out with another couple for a little adventure. An adventure that as you may have already guessed turns life threatening in a hurry. Story-wise that's all you need to know going in, but there's a lot more to the plot that we'll refrain from discussing in the interest of preventing spoilers.
Chernobyl Diaries does a lot of things right. It's especially great at building suspense while giving the viewer a feeling of truly being cut off from the outside world. There are moments in which you'll really feel as if you're on this journey with the characters thanks to some really smart decisions and direction from Brad Parker. There are things you may not even realize about the way the flick has been filmed that totally add to the experience. For example, once our characters get into the van, just about every shot takes place inside of the vehicle. Everything is close and confined, immediately conjuring the need for a little elbow room. When they get out of the van after arriving to the site, even though the ruined city is quite expansive, the feeling of isolation weighs down on you like a ton of bricks. Sometimes you will feel so confined and claustrophobic even the most jaded of viewers will find themselves becoming a bit anxious.
Let's be clear; this is not a movie that's going to hit you a mile a minute with cheap scares and the usual blah blah blah, nor does it try to be. It takes its time bringing on the terror, but there's always enough happening to keep you thoroughly enthralled with all of the goings on, and trust us; when the shit hits the fan, it really hits the fan. All of the actors do a very believable job of bringing both their characters and their situation to life, and other than deciding to go to this godforsaken place itself, nobody does anything that's eye-rollingly stupid.
There are moments within the flick that are truly scary as hell, but many have been hampered by the numerous trailers and TV spots. How I wish I hadn't seen some of the stuff that I did beforehand! One thing is certain: The less you know about Chernobyl Diaries, the better. It's certainly not a flawless film as there is a bit of a "been there/done that" type feeling to it at times and a little too much shaky-cam toward the end, but thus far it stands out amongst the crowd as one of the most rock-solid horror offerings of the year.
If you're on the lookout for cheap thrills, mindless entertainment, and your definition of horror is anything that is riddled with a million jump scares and quick cuts, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a spooky way to kick off the summer movie season, Chernobyl Diaries more than fits the bill.
3 1/2 out of 5