Review: Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

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Cast: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Olivia Dudley
Director: Bradley Parker
Country: USA
Genre: Horror
Official Trailer: Here


The true-life events that happened in the town of Prypiat in 1986 provide enough materials to make an effective, chilling flick. Reactor #4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explodes in a horrific way. An entire town evacuates literally overnight. It was a truly terrifying situation. Now take all that into account and throw it in a blender with horror attributes that stem from three radically different sides of the horror medium spectrum. Chernobyl Diaries in your cup, anyone?

The story follows three Americans playing the tourists-in-Europe niche, featuring Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and her newly single friend Amanda (Devin Kelley). They meet up with Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) whose promise of a trip to Moscow takes a unexpected turn when he informs his guests they’ll be taking an ‘extreme tour’ to visit Chernobyl and the abandoned city. They meet up with two more tourists, Michael and Zoe (Nathan Phillips and Ingrid Boiso Berdal) and their guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and they ride off on their very illegal, unsupervised tour. For the most part they all enjoy it and have a good time, but when they get back to the van, something’s wrong. The van won’t start. Something, or someone, has sabotaged it, and it’s getting dark very soon…

What’s fortunate though is that at least the oh-so-often brash and ridiculous decisions made are from a cast that’s mostly strong, or at least during the really tense, important scenes.

Now I know there are some folks out there that would actually go out and take a tour like this (not me though since I’m a big fan of the whole “breathing” and “living” trend out right now). You can’t have a movie like this function without a good number of characters that don’t have a complete pack of ‘common sense’ trading cards. Individuals like that are the grease that keep the tracks going on ‘some-nonsense’ spooky rides like this. So in essence, there’s plenty of grease. What’s fortunate though is that at least the oh-so-often brash and ridiculous decisions made are from a cast that’s mostly strong, or at least during the really tense, important scenes.

What’s most impressive is how the writing and directing fronts came together without a jumbled-up supernova exploding in our faces. Seriously, we’ve got a trifecta that come from radical different backgrounds as if they’re each from a different part of town via West Side Story. One half of the script (as well as the origin story) come from Oren Peril of Paranormal Activity fame, while the other comes from Carey and Shane Van Dyke, who have written their fair share of Asylum flicks (you know, the company that makes absolutely shameless rip-offs of current mega Hollywood movies). Then coming up to the directing bat is Brad Parker, a first-timer whose resume in visual effects is mammoth. Combining these three should have been messy, but instead we get an end result that for the most part works as a pulse-raising yet amusing horror entry (although I’m sure the ‘amusing’ part wasn’t quite intentional).

Due to his direction and keen cinematography by Morten Søborg (Valhalla Rising) the city of Prypiat becomes a living, breathing, evil entity. She’s gorgeous in her decay and despair…

Since you have a script coming from two different kinds of extremes, most of the time the movie is serious in its efforts to let you know these characters are radically screwed, but we also get the occasional whiff of ridiculousness, either from said characters or just incidents that incite the occasional ‘oh come on’. The script is mish mashed but this is where Parker’s past efforts come into play. He’s smart enough too know to add one more major character that the screenplay didn’t, and that’s the town itself. Due to his direction and keen cinematography by Morten Søborg (Valhalla Rising) the city of Prypiat becomes a living, breathing, evil entity. She’s gorgeous in her decay and despair during the day, but at night is when the guards come down and the vicious come to play. The look of the city, and the ‘feel’ of the story, is showcased and handled divinely thanks to Parker and Søborg. Their accomplishments make us often make us forget those pesky writing flaws and rather make us focus on what the %[email protected]# is behind that shadow.

Despite an ending that comes in bow that wasn’t properly wrapped (or wrapped in a bit of a haste), Chernobyl Diaries is a beaut to look at and its high energy lasts long enough to make it a proud couple of notches above the usual horror rubbish that seeps its way into our lives most times. It’s best to think of it as a theme park: sure there are attractions that make you roll your eyes, but for the most part it provides what you’re yearning for in a straightforward horror experience. Then again, if theme parks aren’t your thing, this one won’t make you a fan anytime soon.

67/100 ~ OKAY. It’s best to think of Chernobyl Diaries as a theme park: sure there are attractions that make you roll your eyes, but for the most part it provides what you’re yearning for in a straightforward horror experience.

Jaime Burchardt


My head's been consumed the art of movies & its creation ever since I was old enough to know what the word 'consumed' meant. The only way to reduce the pressure buildup is to write, edit, and direct. Chocolate milk also helps.
  • Hal Weaver

    Very good write up Jamie. We so many other great movies out right now, I think I’ll wait for it on disk/stream.

    OK HW

  • http://twitter.com/jaimeburchardt Jaime Burchardt

    Enjoy it when you do get a chance bud! 

  • http://twitter.com/AyznGurl Robyn Cristopher

    Nice! But hate scary movies. Too chicken.