‘Chernobyl Diaries’ Self-Destructs

Courtesy of Warner Bros

From the moment I entered the theater, there was a sense of anticipation for what seemed to be an ingenious and innovative concept for a movie. The prospective outlook for “Chernobyl Diaries” was pretty good; its premise being the aftermath of one of modern history’s largest catastrophes. The idea for the horror film was unique in that it has not been tackled by American film, but it quickly became apparent that potential and reality are far from one consistent notion.

The film began with the premise of three Americans — Chris, Amanda and Natalie — traveling throughout Europe on their way to meet with Chris’ older brother Paul in Kiev, Ukraine. Upon their arrival in Kiev, it becomes pretty evident that Paul is an antagonist who is full of clever ideas — the ideas that usually end in some sort of horror film.

Rather than going to Moscow as planned, Paul sets up an “Extreme Tourism” trip for the group with a tour guide named Uri and two strange honeymooners to explore the remains of Pripyat (the former home to the workers and families of Chernobyl, which was abandoned after the failure of a nuclear reactor). The plan: spend two hours in Pripyat touring, then leaving as fast as possible to avoid any serious levels of radiation. The reality: the city isn’t as abandoned as the government had said.

Sitting in the screening, I immediately realized something ironic about the casting of teen sensation Jessie McCartney, who plays Chris. Although the comeback of teen star Jessie McCartney to Hollywood cinema was shocking, the snickering in the movie theater from seeing the familiar face was noticeable, to say the least. Not to say that celebrities cannot play eerily amazing roles in horror films, but following in the steps of films like “House of Wax,” there is something comical about casting teen celebrities in horror films like this, especially because of the fact that it immediately jolts you out of the sense of reality that is created by the film.

A serious qualm that arises with the film is that the cinematic style may fit with the horror genre, but it is in clear juxtaposition with the storyline. Not exactly a single-camera perspective, the film still appears to be taken from a diary’s point of view. It seems as though there is a seventh member of the tour, except there isn’t. As if it would have been too difficult to add in another character.

Another disappointment comes from the potential of having screenwriter Oren Peli (the genius behind “Paranormal Activity”). With an amazing concept and stunning scenery, the direction that the screenwriters took with the film is shocking. A funny feeling that is evoked through the film is the attempt at “Inceptioning” the crowd, but is an utter failure at that.

The film started with a five out of five rating, but fell lower on the ranks as the story and ridiculousness continued. Jessie McCartney’s comeback and an amazing premise could have made this a perfect five-star film. Then the obvious clichéd storylines and transparent “sketchiness” to the situation dropped it to four. It soon dropped to three for the ridiculous attempt at shocking the audience with misplaced use of animals! Finally, it stopped at two for the ridiculously mediocre level of acting and slow-moving characters. There is nothing worse than a slow-moving villain in a film, and the film shoots itself in the foot with that.

Although the lack of direction spoils the prospects for the film, a unique and amazing premise prevents the film from falling to the dreaded one-star rating. For this one, wait for the rental, because it is certainly not worth the theater price.

Rating: 2 out of 5