Chernobyl’s got nothing on Anne Frank
A group of American backpackers embark on a European vacation. Clean-cut Chris (McCartney), his chirpy blonde girlfriend Natalie (Dudley) and her best friend Amanda (Kelley) pass through London, Paris and Prague before hooking up with Chris’s brother Paul (Sadowski) in Kiev. The next planned stop is Moscow, where Chris intends to pop the question to Natalie. Paul, however, has other ideas.
He arranges a trip for them to Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. When a reactor failed, a huge portion of the landscape became covered in lethal amounts of radioactivity and thus rendered the area uninhabitable for many years. The nearby worker’s town of Pripyat was evacuated and has stood empty ever since. Or so everyone thought …
It all starts promisingly enough, providing you can get past some nasal accents and several weak attempts at improvisation. By encouraging his cast to ‘wing it’ for these early scenes, one imagines that director Brad Parker was hoping for realism, but that requires a level of imagination obviously lacking in these young performers. What he ended up with was often loud-mouthed, cringe-inducing ‘I Spy’ type commentary: “Watch out for those cobbled stones, they’ll getcha!” or “So bro, how you likin’ Europe (‘Your-ropp’) so far?”
Setting such niggles aside, once the gang arrive in Pripyat, accompanied by other ‘extreme tourists’, token bushwacker Aussie (Phillips), perky Norwegian (Berdal) and their Ukrainian tour guide Uri (Diatchenko), the setting itself proves genuinely intriguing. The ghostly locations appear extremely authentic, with recreation grounds and abandoned apartment buildings in a state of melancholy decay. A giant fairground ride still stands in a vast courtyard, intended for May Day celebrations that never came.
Preparing to leave, they find their vehicle has been sabotaged and an overnight stay in Pripyat looks inevitable. Here the tension ratchets up high with jumps and jolts aplenty. Sadly the filmmakers are unable to maintain this level of excitement beyond the first hour, where the taut thrills give way to directionless time-paddling. The proceedings soon descend into farce.
Chernobyl Diaries (15)
Dir: Brad Parker; US horror/thriller, 2012, 86 mins;
Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Jesse McCartney, Nathan Phillips, Dimitri Diatchenko
Premieres September 20
Playing at Palads