Though not technically a found-footage film, Chernobyl Diaries employs much of the same style used in the popular subgenre, which both makes it immediate and effective while also bordering on nauseating. On the whole, the movie is not a bad little spook-house chiller, as it offers up a few decent shocks and mystery surrounding what is stalking this group of young tourists within the outskirts of the highly radiated Chernobyl disaster. To its credit, the film isn't stocked with drop-dead dumbos -- that is, one doesn't feel the need to bonk them over the head the entire time due to a lack of acting skills or lazy character motivations. What repeatedly drags the movie down are the aesthetic choices made by director Brad Park and producer/co-screenwriter Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), who duplicate the same style as a first-person film without giving any reason as to why. While this aides the proceedings when in claustrophobic settings, there are moments when you wish the crew would have laid down a dolly track and chilled things out a bit.
What's funny is that the filmmakers fake the audience out into thinking they're going to watch a found-footage movie by opening up the picture with bad camcorder shots that introduce the young American cast vacationing in Russia. Soon, the camera pulls out revealing that the footage was on an iPad, but the shaky technique persists, thus making the fake-out a bit confusing. By the time the kids actually venture to the city adjacent to Chernobyl while on a bootleg guided tour, it's not hard to get used to the faux reality thanks to some sufficient location work in Eastern Europe. Though a few shocks might resonate with the audience, there is a definite lack of payoff when it's all said and done. Still, Diaries could be a whole lot worse -- in fact, co-writer Shane Van Dyke has his name all over such esteemed Asylum rip-offs as Titanic II, Transmorphers: Fall of Man, Street Racer, The Day the Earth Stopped, and yes, even Paranormal Entity. So Oren Peli, the man behind Paranormal Activity, has stooped to collaborate with the guy behind the film that blatantly ripped him off. Given that, it's amazing Chernobyl Diaries isn't a total disaster. Sure, it might dizzy the brain to look at sometimes -- and confuse it with a cop-out ending -- but no doubt people will remember that weird thing that crawled out of that tent. Just try to not forget that. leave a comment --Jeremy Wheeler