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Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

chernobyl diaries poster

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.

I don’t really get chance to review many horror movies that were released on the big screen. The majority I see are home video releases, or hidden gems, and whilst I know I’m a few months behind on this, it’s still strange reviewing something that I know is pretty well watched. That being said, it’s a movie I was itching to see, but all the bad word of mouth around it on release made me wait a while to form my own judgement. Yet I’m still gonna be negative myself…….after all that…….

Chernobyl Diaries was co-produced and directed by Bradley Parker (as well as being produced by Oren Peli), and uses the real-life 1986 Chernobyl disaster for its backdrop. Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and their mutual friend Amanda (Devin Kelley), are traveling across Europe, visiting Paris, Rome and London. They stop in Kiev, Ukraine, to visit Chris’s brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), before heading on to Moscow where Chris intends to propose to Natalie.

chernobyl diaries cast

After a night on the town, Paul suggests they go for an “extreme tour” of the abandoned town of Prypiat which sits in the shadow of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, deserted since the events. They are joined by a backpacking couple, Norwegian Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Australian Michael (Nathan Phillips – Wolf Creek, Dying Breed). After being refused entry by military guarding the location, their tour guide Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko), sneaks them in at an unguarded spot.

Along the way they stop at a river where they discover a large, mutated fish (which reminded me of The Simpsons!). The friends are worried about radiation poisoning, but Yuri assures them they are safe as he has a Geiger counter. They then spend a few hours exploring the abandoned city, including the gymnasium and it’s infamous Ferris wheel (I will admit that when the Ferris wheel came on-screen, it did bring back some Call of Duty memories).

Chernobyl Ferris Wheel

Disaster inevitably strikes after a great day sightseeing and the group are ready to leave. To their dismay, the van wont start. Then they come to the realisation that not only are they being watched, but someone or something does not want them to leave………..

Let’s start with what I liked about Chernobyl Diaries. The location looked so authentic. I mean, whilst I haven’t been there, it looked as it always does on photos and documentaries. Suitably eerie and creepy, the location really was the star here.

Cast wise, they were a likeable group I felt. I always like Nathan Phillips, and have linked a couple of my other reviews where he appears further up, and he is always good fun to watch. He brings the comedy here, and is easily the most likeable out of them all. The brothers relationship is a little strange, but that was never really expanded on. Yuri was good fun I suppose, and looked like he was straight out of GTA IV with his track suit top and huge build. A fun character! They all gave decent performances, and were just about believable as a group of friends. Their characters actions were debatable, but that’s the scripts issue not theirs!

chernobyl diaries creepy

My main negative would be the hand-held cameras. I know Oren Peli made his name with the Paranormal Activity franchise, and found footage, but I just felt it was used badly here. The locations looked beautiful and haunting, the video was HD crystal clear, and the cast all looked gorgeous. So when the film starts and we get to see videos of various European stops on the friends tour, I felt there was a reason for someone to be filming them POV style. Then it turns out it isn’t one of the group working the camera, and we stay in this style throughout the duration. It just felt like a waste, or missed opportunity to not have the group filming each other the whole time. Well, at one point they did, but I hope you get what I mean.

For a ‘horror‘ film, Chernobyl Diaries just wasn’t scary. It had some suspense, and it was creepy at times once the ‘things in the dark‘ were unveiled (kind of) but it took a bit of research after I’d watched it to see what the threat was. And it was a good explanation, and intriguing, and made me wonder why this wasn’t explored in the actual movie itself.

Chernobyl Diaries 2

Actually, no, the worst thing here is that you never see anyone die!! I want to avoid spoilers as always, but I will say there are deaths here. I appreciate it was shot on a low-budget, and we see the after effects and dead bodies, but there are no on-screen deaths. I found this a really surprising move, and wasn’t a fan of it. I appreciate that sometimes less is more, but it just didn’t work for me here.

Overall, I just felt as though Chernobyl Diaries had so much potential but just felt rushed and incomplete. It really could have been something great for this genre, but I came away from this disappointed. Whilst there is definitely interest from me in a sequel should one ever come to fruition, and the large gross would prove I’m not alone in checking it out, there are lots of things to improve on to make a better experience next time round.

5 stars

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61 Comments

  1. Dan

     /  January 17, 2013

    I’m avoiding this film because of all the bad word-of-mouth it got, but I have to admit that part of me still wants to blow 90 minutes on this dreck. Certainly it has got to be better than Abraham Lincoln vs. the Zombies, right? 😉

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    • Ha, yeah its better than lots of films, but also worse than lots!! 🙂

      You know, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. There is so much potential there, and there are some good things to take away from it. You just have to look hard! 🙂

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    • If you haven’t watched Abe vs Zombies yet, the only reason to do so is the fake beards.

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  2. I heard bad reports about it, and now your review … looks like it’s plague time for avoiding 😉 Thanks for the review

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    • I know, I tried to offer something positive though, and not just say its shit like some ‘reviews’ 🙂 Not a lot to recommend here sadly.

      Cheers Alastair

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  3. jenkakio

     /  January 17, 2013

    I hate hand held style movies. I think it’s because I get super motion sickness. By the judgment of the trailer, it looks scary…too bad that was not the case. I don’t think I’ll be checking out this film anytime soon…thanks to your review.

    On a random note: I’ve always wanted to visit Chernobyl. One day!

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    • I don’t mind the hand held style as such, when its done right, or has a purpose, you know? Sometimes it works, Cloverfield for example. Here though, it was just distracting more than anything.

      I’m the same, wanted to visit it even more after watching this!! 🙂

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  4. Yeah, I’m feeling the same way…the bad word-of-mouth kept me away, and although I was quite excited about seeing it after watching the trailer, I’ve been lukewarm towards it ever since. I will check it out eventually, though…on a VERY slow night! And I agree, Tyson: sometimes hand-held cameras are not the way to go.

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    • I kept away for a while, and then even my wife said she watched it and wasn’t scared, I knew deep down it wasn’t going to be what I’d hoped.Such a shame, as the trailer was great!!

      A lot of people dislike the hand held camera style, and whilst I still maintain it does work effectively sometimes, this was not one of those times.

      Cheers Todd!! 🙂

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  5. theipc

     /  January 17, 2013

    I never thought this looked very good at all – from the trailers – but, like you, a man must make a decision for himself, so I have been waiting until I can see it for FREE. Good one, Chuckles!! I don’t like that nickname any more. I need to think of a new one. How about Hambone?

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    • Yeah, I mean Tyson is fine? Or Handsome Tys? Whatever 🙂

      Free would be ideal, BUT there is worse out there. REC 3?! Or something called Bloody Bloody Bible Camp which I have ready to watch based on your love for it! 🙂 Cheers!

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  6. I rated it the second worst film I saw in 2012!

    What annoyed me the most is that the film never really clarifies what these ‘things’ chasing the protagonists are. One minute they’re fast and agile, the next they’re able to flip a car and then at the end they walk slowly like zombies. They were like mutated ghost zombies I suppose!

    The only good thing I took away from the film was the fantastic location that they managed to find.

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    • Second worst? I saw loads worse!!

      I mean, I know what the ‘enemies’ were intended to be but their story was never really expanded on. I thought the soldiers may have tipped over the van? Where did you see ghosts?? Lol

      Cheers buddy, and I agree, the location was fantastic 🙂

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  7. Heh. That fish reminded me of the Simpsons too. LOL

    You’re 100% spot on in your evaluation here Tyson. A horror film that didnt feel scary at all. Clearly the budget is most likely to blame…. but there’s no excuse for that ending, either 😦

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    • Good old Simpsons 🙂

      Such a shame, at no point was it even remotely scary or particularly thrilling. Very disappointing! It’s budget was way bigger than paranormal activity and that was scary. The ending was a cop out for sure.

      Glad you agree Fogs, cheers dude 🙂

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  8. I think it’s exactly as you scored it. 50% and average, it’s not as bad as the critics make it though. There a few scares to be had. Nice review Tyson.

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    • Yeah, I always feel as though I’m copping out giving something 50% but it was hard to avoid here. You scared of the bear? LOL aside from the kid I didnt find much creepy here sadly.

      Cheers Chris 🙂

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  9. Skip it! Great concept, poor execution.

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  10. davecrewe

     /  January 18, 2013

    Question (if this can be answered without spoilers, anyway): Is the handheld camera because it’s supposed to be found footage, or is it just a style they’ve chosen to use?

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    • Just the style I think. No where does it say its found footage. I know its cheaper to film this way, but when there is potential for one of the group to be filming it, I felt they missed a trick and it was just off putting.

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  11. Good review, Ty. I’d heard a lot of negative about this too so avoided it but you expounded on why it wasn’t great which is always good to know.

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    • Thanks Misty. I tried to give something extra just incase people were on the fence. I mean, theres not a lot to recommend, but its not the worst film out there for sure! 🙂

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  12. I thought the same thing about the Simpsons fish. That was pretty hilarious.

    I actually felt the opposite about the camera. In a lot of the found-footage horror movies I’ve seen, the fact that the people are filming it all usually ends up being a giant conceit that just irritates me. I usually feel like there’s no way in hell anyone would still be actively filming anything once the shit hits the fan. Here, though, you still get the style of found-footage (which I do like a lot), but without having to suspend a LOT of disbelief over the characters filming. I really thought that was a great, subtle touch.

    The ending really pulled me out of it, though. I was with it right up until the last couple of minutes. I mean, it was heading somewhere good and then it took a left turn and put a bad taste in my mouth.

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    • Simpsons used to be the best show….. 😦

      I agree, most of the time the found footage gimmick and ‘why would people be shooting still’ annoys me. Sometimes it works, Paranormal Activity gave them a reason to be filming, same for Cloverfield. But here, it was like it started with them filming each other, then moved away from this and clearly wasnt them doing it, but stayed with the shaky cam. Maybe if they hadnt shown the beginning with them filming? I dont know, I just felt they should be recording visiting a place like this, and they missed a trick. Glad it worked for you though Phobos.

      The ending sucked balls your right, just abrupt and lazy. Shame.

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      • You know, it looks like everyone is going to stay away from this based on the comments, so here are some spoilers.

        I was waiting to see what happened when the things finally caught up with them, and then the stupid military shows up? That pissed me the hell off. I think the ending was supposed to shock me or something, but it just angered me further. Why are they locking people in with zombie mutants so they can be eaten alive or whatever? That makes no sense. Someone else mentioned it in the comments, but I also don’t understand what was throwing cars around. The things chasing them didn’t seem that strong, because weren’t they just locking doors behind them as they ran? Ugh.

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        • SPOILERS

          Oren Peli confirmed the ‘mutants’ were infact escaped prisoners from a mental institution (or something along those lines). The military were experimenting on them, they escaped and ended up in that reactor. When they capture the girl at the end she is passed to the ones they have experimented and caught.

          I believe the van was turned over by the bear, or soldiers searching more likely. Hence the same ones holed up on the school bus, shooting outwards to survive 🙂

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      • Well, that is some shoddy storytelling, then.

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        • Sounds good when I read it back, thats where my disappointment stems from, as that combined with the location sounds great!

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  13. I actually liked this this. Started more strongly than it finished and the location was definitely the star. It was effective at letting my imagination do all the heavy lifting 🙂

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    • Glad you liked it! I agree, the location was fantastic, but there were too many weak points for me. Still, I was never bored, and would maybe watch it again one day. Cheers:)

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  14. I thought this sounded like a really interesting concept that could have been really scary if done right. However, as soon as I saw the trailer and their van wouldn’t start I was done, not for me! Great review man!

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  15. I thought the same thing….another supposed scary movie that just doesn’t deliver. However, from reading your review I almost want to check it out to see how bad it really is haha. Maybe it will proffer some enjoyment?

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  16. hello, Sir Tyson… this is a fair review and has wonderful and apt pictures from the movie. happy 2013! write on… 🙂

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  17. I think I may watch it because, much like you, I am drawn to the visuals of the place itself, having seen the city in many documetary shows.

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    • Worth it for the replica town they created, looks so authentic and eerie. Looks like it does in the documentaries. Perfect place for a horror movie, but it just didn’t work as well as I hoped. Hopefully you will get more out of it than I did! Cheers 🙂

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  18. extrafeaturespodcast

     /  January 19, 2013

    It’s a big pile. The 5 rating is being really nice to this film. I would give it a one .

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  19. The found footage schtick is starting to look a little stale these days, isn’t it?

    ‘Because everyone is entitled to my opinion’ – genius. Personally I don’t use ‘lol’ etc, but LOL.

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  20. Garry Armstrong

     /  January 19, 2013

    Oh, man! Reading these comments makes me wonder if I made a mistake in giving up sniffing glue (pause for snickers) … I was trying to gauge the movie comments until they segued into Tyson homages. Just kidding!! Even when I don’t know a damn thing about the movie, it’s a hoot just reading the comments. You folks absolutely make my day!!

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    • And I always appreciate you stopping by Garry! Even if the film doesn’t tickle your fancy, I’m glad the comments entertain you at least! 🙂

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  21. This film has been sitting in my download folder for months now, and I can’t decide whether I should watch it or ditch it. I absolutely love locations like abandoned cities, dystopian worlds, and futuristic landscapes, but I also really loathe handheld camera style films. I would even go as far as to say that I hated every handheld camera film I’ve ever seen.

    I had to laugh when I saw the trailer. Who the fuck would go stand several meters away from a restaurant table, just so they could get a good shot of their friends having a conversation? Seems legit.

    So seeing these two elements combined in one film leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. Not being able to find a single positive review isn’t a good thing either…

    Did the camera style do any justice to the location at all? Or should I ditch this film altogether and just go watch Stalker for the twentieth time?

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    • If you have never liked a ‘shaky cam’ film before then I’d avoid this! There are lots better (and lots worse!). Not a lot of positives to be found for the film from other people, I noticed that too.

      Did the camera do the location any justice? Well, it looked good, but a lot was indoors, and dark, and underground………aside from the ferris wheel and river at the beginning, it could of been anywhere. What you do see of the location looks great, and the camera doesnt get chance to detract from it. But, most of the action doesnt show you the scenery………If you get chance to see this, for free, I would give it a shot. Just to make up your own mind, who knows, it may work for you!? Thanks for commenting 🙂

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