By Mike Smith
Blame “The Blair Witch Project.” Since that film came out in 1999, a plethora of “found footage” films has invaded the multiplex. Some of them (“Cloverfield,” the “Paranormal Activity” series) have been downright scary. Others, like the recent “Apollo 18,” have been anything but. Now we have “Chernobyl Diaries” which, thankfully, is no “Apollo 18.”
On a trip to Europe three young friends visit all of the major cities on the continent. London. Prague. Frankfurt. The trio is made up of Chris (McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Dudley) and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelly). The group ends up in Kiev, where they plan to meet up with Chris’ brother, Paul (Sadowski). The plan is to take a trip to Moscow. But the plans change when Paul enlists Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), an “extreme tour” guide. Uri informs them that he can take the group to Pripyat, which is where the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant and their families lived. They learn that, after the reactor meltdown a quarter century ago, the residents of the town were given less than five minutes to evacuate. It now stands as a town that time forgot, where because of the fallout, nothing can live. Almost nothing.
Best described as “I Am Legend” meets “Paranormal Activity,” “Chernobyl Diaries” is a pretty slick little film. The “Paranormal Activity” gene comes straight from the source as the film was co-written by Oren Peli, the writer/director of the original film. His script is solid here, with an unflinching look at what the effects of a nuclear disaster can be. In Pripyat giant bears and packs of dogs hunt in the woods while fish resembling the kind swimming near the nuclear plant on “The Simpsons” fill the lake. The city is also occupied by what appears to be a race of people that have mutated into night dwelling monsters.
Though some of the scares are telegraphed the majority of the film is pretty intense. Credit a strong cast, a keen eye by first time director Parker and a production designer who has managed to bring, excuse the pun, a dead town to life. The set pieces are impressive as are the visual effects. If you’re looking for a fright this holiday weekend you could do much worse then “Chernobyl Diaries.”