“Chernobyl Diaries”, boasting producer and co-screenplay credits by Oren Peli, the Godfather of the modern “reality TV horror” movie genre, if you will, has nothing new to offer you, but it does take place in a groovy, rundown location that hasn’t been put on the big screen before in quite the same context. If you’re looking for something completely original, I would move right on along. If you’re in the mood for something familiar, with just a bit of “newness”, then “Chernobyl Diaries”, now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video, might just suffice.
Six tourists hire an extreme tour guide who takes them to the abandoned city Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. During their exploration, they soon discover they are not alone.
Well, the whole “they are not alone” part goes without saying, right? What kind of horror movie would this be if it was just the tourists and their guide walking through the wreckage of an abandoned town? Exactly, not much of one. Of course, that doesn’t really stop “Chernobyl Diaries” from feeling exactly like that for much of its running time, things going bump in the night and, er, wildlife showing up here and there notwithstanding.
If you’re looking for atmosphere, “Chernobyl Diaries” has that in spades. Shot in that nerve-jangling handheld camera style that is so popular nowadays with these cheapie-to-mid-budget horror movies, “Chernobyl Diaries” is directed by Bradley Parker, and features a no-name cast of pretty people waiting to die. When the film starts cranking up the tension, it’s not an altogether bad horror movie. Of course, it takes quite some time to get there, and viewers who aren’t used to the genre will lack the patience, though those familiar with it will be expecting this delayed gratification. There are some creepy moments here and there until the fit hits the shan and people begin running for their lives down dark hallways and the like, but like Peli’s own “Paranormal Activity” films, the payoff comes in the back end.
I wouldn’t be surprise if much of “Chernobyl Diaries” was “written” as they shot the film. Oh, I’m sure they had an idea of where they were going and how to get there, but the in-between stuff (say, much of the first 30 minutes) could have been left wide open for, shall we say, “interpretation”. After all, movies from this genre are well-known for their adlibs, their “let’s see where this goes” attitude. Of course, this often leads to some inane squabbling between characters and pointless chatter to pass the time, which you do get here. While never achieving greatness or indeed excelling in anything it attempts, “Chernobyl Diaries” is nevertheless a reasonably successful film in that it offers you exactly what you’ve come to expect, and no more, no less.
The film starts off as if you’re watching someone’s vacation videos, but don’t be fooled — “Chernobyl Diaries” has a decent budget, and that comes through on Blu-ray. The night and darkly lit scenes, of which there are many once things kick into gear in the second half, look nice onscreen. I don’t have any complaints about the audio, either, and watching the film with surround sound stereo was an experience. Remember to turn the lights off, too.
There isn’t much in terms of bonus content on the Blu-ray Combo Pack, except for a couple of deleted scenes, including the Blu-ray box cover’s big “Alternate Ending” sales pitch, which, honestly, is pretty pedestrian. You also get a pair of rather pointless viral videos, with the film available on standard DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultraviolet. It would have been interesting to hear what the cast had to say in a running commentary track. I’m always curious how much of these movies are made up on the spot and how much were scripted. Alas, the guys who produced the Blu-ray didn’t feel the same way.