The Chernobyl Diaries (2012) dir. Bradley Parker
Starring: Dimitri Diatchenko, Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Okay, let's get a few things straight before we dive in. Though this movie was shot in Serbia and Hungary, it is set in Ukraine. I have no problem with this. The aforementioned Eastern European locations are more than suitable stand-ins for Ukraine.
But allow me, if you will, to reiterate - the movie is set in UKRAINE!!! I read a few boneheaded reviews after I saw the movie because I enjoyed the picture a great deal and was surprised to hear it received a whole whack of negative notices from purported film critics. Their quibbles were, to my mind, inconsequential and typically, pretentiously and predictably of the pseudo-egghead-snob variety - or in other words, the usual garble from a passel of geeks who really know nothing about movies and in a knee-jerk fashion, condemned a decent genre film.
Astonishingly, some of these same critics referred to Ukraine as "the Ukraine". We don't call Italy The Italy, do we? A larger slice of Ignorance Pie came from those critics who inexplicably suggested that the movie was set in Russia. The last time I checked, Ukraine was not Russia and the horrendous nuclear disaster happened in Ukraine. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to make sure we all know it's set in Ukraine. Do any of these writers have editors or are the editors as stupid as the writers?
Finally, I have a minor quibble with the filmmakers. Their film is called The Chernobyl Diaries, however, "Chernobyl" is the RUSSIAN transliteration. The Ukrainian transliteration is "Chornobyl". The difference is slight, but distinctive enough that it might have been nice if they'd got it right. If the film had been set DURING the nuclear disaster in 1986 when Russia ruled Ukraine then the Russian transliteration would have made sense, but as it's set in contemporary Ukraine, CHORNOBYL is the correct spelling, not CHERNOBYL. As well, the two Ukrainian cities the movie is set in are transliterated from Ukrainian as Kyiv (not Kiev, which is Russian) and Pryp'yat with the apostrophe to denote the softening of the "p" and NOT Prypiat (which is Russian).
My review will transliterate all these names properly.
Paul (Sadowski) has been living in Kyiv for awhile. He's come to love Ukraine, the language, the culture and most of all, the women. It's not for nothing that in their classic ditty "Back in the U.S.S.R.", The Beatles sang: "Those Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the west behind." His little brother Chris (McCartney) is on a whirlwind European tour with his babe girlfriend and her even more babe-o-licious friend. They're to meet Paul in Ukraine to eventually all go to Moscow. Paul has other plans. He's arranged a side-jaunt to Pryp'yat through Yuri. Along with another couple (including another babe), the six of them cram into Yuri's rickety van and do a bit of extreme tourism.
Unfortunately, things get a bit more extreme than anyone bargained for. Wandering through the deserted city, they start hearing weird noises punctuating the eerie silence and eventually they're besieged by hungry, radiation-crazed bears, dogs, wolves and ceolocanth-piranha-like fish. When Yuri's van won't start, darkness descends upon the city.
It appears there are other creatures to contend with. And they're hungry. Yuri, however, has a gun, the guys are hunks and are, as such, brave and one of the babes is imbued with plenty of kick-ass abilities. As they must, because it's a horror film, our motley crew ventures into the darkness of the city that overlooks the Chornobyl Nuclear Plant. Where there is radiation, there will be MUTANTS!!! Where there are mutants, carnage will follow.
Shepherded by producer Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), The Chornobyl Diaries had me chewing my fingernails throughout. The setting is eerie, the situation vaguely believable (Ukraine, in general, can be a very scary place) and the suspense is expertly executed - in spite of the inexplicable use of shaky-cam technique (nobody appears to have a camera to shoot this). The gore is generally at a minimum, but when it occurs, it's plenty gruesome. The atmosphere is super-creepy and the direction, pacing and cutting of the suspense is very solid. The climactic moments are unbearably scary and contain more than any horror movie's fair share of shocks. Thought the shaky cam is unmotivated, one eventually files this away and the handheld cinematography does contribute to the desired effect of jangling the nerves.
Basically, the movie is a very generous grocery list of items that deliver the required scares. Faulty transliteration aside, the major flaw, near as I can tell, is that we have a movie set in Ukraine, but not once do we see anyone eating varenyky, holubtsi or kovbassa. This is a misdemeanor, to be sure, but hardly a capital offence.
What demands a one-way ticket to Siberia, however, is that the movie never gives us any "Ukraine Girls" to knock us out and, of course, to leave the west behind.
"The Chernobyl Diaries" is in wide theatrical release through Warner Brothers.