Chris has always been a pretty solid guy. Caring. Smart. Levelheaded. His brother Paul? Well … Chris certainly doesn't want to badmouth his bro, but Paul can be a little spur-of-the-moment crazy. Like when he went to visit Kiev and decided to stay there!
So when Chris, his girlfriend Natalie and their mutual friend Amanda are touring Europe, it probably would've been better to just skip Kiev and Paul altogether. But, hey, he is Chris' brother.
They stop in and, wouldn't you know it, not only does Paul start hitting on Amanda, he suggests they join a small group for some "extreme tourism." See, Paul knows this former special forces Russian guy named Uri who can get them into Chernobyl! OK, it's a little abandoned town next to Chernobyl called Pripyat, but it'll be great nonetheless, Paul assures them. He says 50,000 people had, like, five minutes to evacuate during the 1986 nuclear reactor disaster—and they left everything behind. Won't that be cool to see?
Chris isn't so sure. Actually, he is. He's sure it's a horrible idea. But he's outvoted. Amanda, an avid photog, starts thinking this could be a fun picture-snapping jaunt. "What about the radiation?" Chris asks. Paul pooh-poohs that. The radiation will be no problem. We're only gonna be there for a few hours, he says.
Um, did anybody tell Paul that this is an R-rated horror film? And that in R-rated horror films, even a few hours is far too long?
Alas, no. And after they do a little creepy sightseeing, they return to their van … to find that the vehicle's spark plug wires have been savaged. "I thought nobody lives here," Chris worries. "Day don't," Uri replies. "Dis is eempossible." But it's not impossible at all. And as they huddle in the van, waiting for night to pass, they start to hear spooky cries in the darkness.
At some point someone urges, "We've gotta be smart about this." But even Paul knows that ship has already sailed.
Oh, here's one: Chris talks of his love for Natalie and his desire to marry her. And when his leg is ripped open by roving rabid dogs and Uri goes missing, a few of the remaining folks decide to search for Uri and find help. (Heroic, maybe, but never well thought through.)
Natalie wears low-cut tops. Paul makes some verbal advances on Amanda. (She casually rebuffs him.) Chris and Natalie kiss.
Next stop: Rabid, mutated animals and humans attack Uri and his young charges. We fully witness the bloody aftermath of the attacks and catch glimpses of the actual violence (often shot in low light and/or with the herky-jerky motion of a handheld camera). The most out-in-the-open blood and gore we see is when Chris and Uri are first set upon. Chris' leg is chewed open, and his hands are covered in his own blood. A group of people track Uri's whereabouts by following a bloody trail down a long corridor. When they find him he's been reduced to a ravaged mound of flesh, bone and organs.
Final stops: A crowd of mutants swarm around and pull two girls down into their midst. A guard hangs upside down with blood streaming over his face. A limbless creature gnashes his teeth and wriggles fearfully across the floor. An enraged bear storms down a hallway. Snarling dogs rip and pull at a corpse. A dead animal is found decomposing on a stairway.
A man has his ankle gashed by a mutated fish monstrosity. A guy blazes away at a group of creatures with a handgun. The van is rolled and two people are dragged out screaming by an unseen assailant. Guards shoot a struggling innocent in the chest. Two people are exposed to so much radiation that it visibly burns their hands and faces, blinding one.
Crude or Profane Language
Over 80 f-words. Close to 20 s-words. Two or three each of "a‑‑" and "h‑‑‑." God's and Jesus' names are profaned a handful of times, with God's getting combined with "d‑‑n" once. Crude slang refers to female genitalia.
Drug and Alcohol Content
When first arriving at Paul's apartment, all of the friends drink beer from cups and bottles. After a stint at a club, the girls walk out visibly wobbly.
Other Negative Elements
Guards turn Uri and his youthful tourists back at the border, but the former special forces guy disregards their orders and finds another way into Pripyat.
In the universe of moviemaking, sometimes a simple "What if?" premise can pry open the production-money coffers. In this small corner of that universe, it was an idea from Paranormal Activity director and writer Oren Peli: What if a small group of Euro-traveling twentysomethings sneak into a deserted town next to Chernobyl?
You have to admit the idea of setting a movie in a real ghost town, left deserted but intact when everyone evacuated during a nuclear disaster, has a certain creepy appeal. And actually shooting parts of it there only adds to the movie "magic." The grave-silent empty buildings, the grass-cracked pavement, and the forlorn and rusting Ferris wheel all deliver a uniquely eerie feel at the front end of the film.
Chernobyl Diaries, however, proves that an interesting location and logline do not always a good movie make.
Everything else this film has to reel out is one-dimensional, predictable, poorly executed and/or gruesome—feeling quite a bit like an improvised handheld film project that's been haphazardly put together to meet a college course deadline. It's an ugly little drone of a formulaic horror flick that delivers a brief setup, a one-by-one checked-off list of frantically screaming character eliminations and a barrage of f-bombs that obliterate the "need" for actual dialogue.