It has been a fun time for these three friends - Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley) and her friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) - as they travelled across Europe, taking photos and making videos of their trip, until they reach Kiev and Chris's brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) who lives there. They are due to head off to Moscow, but not before Paul makes a suggestion: why not take the Chernobyl tour? What's that? Essentially, they pay a local to take them on an excursion to the radioactive ruins of the disaster, and specifically the abandoned town of Pripyat...
What could possibly go wrong? How about campaigners accusing the man who had the idea for this film, producer Oren Peli, of the most horrendous bad taste when setting his story in a place where wounds of a terrible event had not entirely healed, and being an unthinking fool to locate his shocker in a place where we're supposed to believe a bunch of mutants may well be lurking, making this the equivalent of an American backwoods horror as seen from the seventies onwards? Peli hit back at the claims he was exploiting the memory of a tragedy which killed thousands, but even if this had been on a Texas Chain Saw Massacre level of achievement, not everybody was going to be convinced.
Convinced that this was a good idea in the first place, that was, rather than not being convinced it was a decent film, although there were plenty who watched this and saw nothing but a typical "American tourists are stupid" chiller, which didn't exactly endear it to the target audience. Yet for all the grumblings, Chernobyl Diaries (which may take place at Chernobyl, but features no diaries) actually had a great sense of location, and the premise of the characters being menaced in a place where by rights nobody should be around at all was a neat, creepy one which director Bradley Parker capitalised on thanks to scenes filmed in Eastern Europe, though not actually at the site of the disaster.
So the real star of this was that location, but it was true the revelation of what the final threat was could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the basic personality types who populated the equally basic plotline meant we didn't dither around with character sequences and got straight to the point, making for a horror which may not have relied on special effects, but coming from the creator of the Paranormal Activity franchise that wasn't so surprising after all. What it did rely on was atmosphere, and the crumbling ruins of the town this was shot in generously provided that as the four Americans, accompanied by their guide (Dimitri Diatchenko) and two hangers-on (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Nathan Phillips), drive into the contaminated area to sight-see.
In a way this was accusing those who would visit places of great upheaval for tourist reasons of insensitivity itself, not that its critics would accept that, but the group certainly pay dearly for their morbid curiosity. Then again, those critics shouldn't have gotten too upset when Chernobyl Diaries was hardly worth lambasting given there were far less tasteful uses of real life catastrophes in the movies, and not many took it seriously as what would actually happen should you visit Pripyat anyway. There are genuine tours of the area which haven't resulted in anyone being deliberately attacked by whoever may still be lurking in the location, so it's not as if this was based on any hard and fast facts. What it was turned out to be nothing spectacular, but if you set aside your reservations you might find a nuts and bolts runaround distinguished by an excelllent sense of a bleak place left derelict by mankind. If everything else went much as you'd expect, then that was not so bad. Music by Diego Stocco.