From the mind of Paranormal Activity maestro Oren Peli and first-time director Bradley Parker, the film follows six 20-somethings (including former boy bander Jesse McCartney) taking an “extreme tour” of the town of Pripyat, abandoned since the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster of 1986. They’re not supposed to be there, but it wouldn’t be extreme if they didn’t break at least one big rule, right?
After an afternoon of exploring its empty streets and ramshackle apartment buildings, they discover they cannot leave, because someone — or something — has fiddled with the tour van’s wiring. Clearly, they are not alone.
Ironically, the film has an engaging setup and first act. It’s only when night falls and the terror begins that Chernobyl Diaries begins to bore. Too little happens, and not enough of it pays off until the last few seconds. (For zero payoff, check out the disc’s alternate ending.)
At least it’s not found footage — just handheld. The fun of watching this on Blu-ray vs. in theaters this past summer is being able to pause and frame-forward to get better glimpses at what otherwise flashes by too quickly to register. Taken as a whole, the overall result is not terrible — just middling. —Rod Lott