Any mention of Chernobyl usually evokes disastrous thoughts. That being said, if a Russian tour guide suggests an excursion to the city where a nuclear reactor leak caused one of the worst radioactive catastrophes in human history only 26 years ago, it’s probably a good idea to decline his offer. But in Chernobyl Diaries, a group of young Americans thinks the idea of exploring the nearby town of Pripyat, which was inexplicably abandoned (well, it should be obvious why) around the same time as the leak, sounds like a lot of fun.
After Russian soldiers deny them access, the tour guide (Dimitri Diatchenko) finds a back way in before letting the Americans rummage through the deserted buildings. As nightfall gradually approaches, they, of course, begin to hear things and start getting all creeped out. Then the van won’t start because something (or someone) has messed up its wires. Then it gets dark and the whole things becomes a combination of The Blair Witch Project and Cujo as a shaky camera offers a realistic glimpse at the creatures hungry for those inside the van.
The night gets all the more intense when the tour guide and Chris (Jesse McCartney) decide it’s a good idea to go see what was trying to get them. Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) goes to find them, but returns only with a wounded Chris. Well, there go Chris’ romantic plans to propose to his girlfriend (Olivia Taylor Dudley) in Moscow.
Once the sun has risen again, the survivors try to figure out how to get out of this mess. They soon find that not only are they not alone, but that Chernobyl and Pripyat are fairly well populated by ravenous dogs, flesh-eating fish and zombie-like creatures resembling humans. But since we never get a good look at most of the creatures, it’s hard to tell just what kind of mutants they are. Whatever they are, they’re relentlessly hungry and do not want these people to escape with their lives. And each time there’s any sign of hope for survival, tragedy strikes again, leaving little time to grieve as the creatures responsible for the tragedy are still on the hunt.
Chernobyl Diaries borrows heavily from Night of the Living Dead and Alien with its foreboding feeling of impending doom that’s almost always just out of sight. But it’s the not seeing that keeps things suspenseful until the few survivors make it all the way to the damaged reactor where it all started. And once they get to that point, there’s a shockingly new discovery awaiting them that provides an even more ominous look at the entire disaster.
Chernobyl Diaries. Directed by Bradley Parker. Starring Devin Kelly, Jonathan Sadowsky, Jesse McCartney and Olivia Taylor Dudley. Rated R. www.chernobyldiaries.com.