This new 'found footage' horror flick is dumb as dirt, but in all the right ways....
Warner / 86 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: October 16, 2012
This may come as a huge surprise, but it turns out that Pripyat - the town where a lot of workers who perished during the Chernobyl disaster lived and left their families - may not make for a sensational vacation destination. Under the guise of the new brand of 'found footage' horror schlock - hell, at least the 'torture porn' subgenre seems to have come and gone - anyone who tunes in to Chernobyl Diaries will get a camcorder-eye's-view of what happens when six travelers get to the place, get stuck there, and then get picked off one by one. Whee!
Horror flicks like this one don't have to be across-the-board accomplished in order to deliver what audiences demand of them, which is pretty much the only way in which Chernobyl Diariesalmost works. The hand-held nausea-cam gets old fast, the 'acting' in the movie is perhaps a few degrees north of atrocious, and you can sense mutated undead baddies coming a mile away, but every twenty minutes or so in this dingbat little 'found footage' flick, you'll be treated to an honest-to-goodness scare.
Part of the reason Chernobyl Diaries doesn't need to be thrown out entirely is that its high-concept conceit is tailor-made to the type of horror subgenre it's interested in exploiting. Decades on, the Chernobyl nightmare still commands a significant degree of intrigue - especially for those of us in the western world who don't know all the specifics of its atrocities - and even if the meta-drama at hand in this Paranormal Activity clone doesn't have much weight to it, for less than an hour and a half, for the horror-tolerant, it's easy to fall under its paper-thin spells.
Of course, a second viewing all but cuts the film off at its knees - once you know when the ghouls and monsters are going to show, the thrill is gone - but Chernobyl Diaries proves that narrative acuity or newness would simply be gravy in terms of delivering the goods in a picture like this one. You'll gasp once or twice, wince a handful of times, and be stoked when your girlfriend turns into your shoulder on the couch when she 'can't watch': there's no reason to put it on your Blu-ray shelf or anything, but if you need a slightly above-average freakout that you can wash off within ninety seconds of the movie's finale, Chernobyl Diaries proves itself to be a nominally entertaining diversion.