without filming hot young teens running screaming through them while a camera crew documents it for moviegoing audiences? Chernobyl Diaries
makes a big show out of attempting to breathe life into the "teens lost in the fill-in-the-blank" horror genre by making Chernobyl its backdrop. A for effort, Paranormal Activity
producer Oren Peli, but the presence of a computer-generated nuclear reactor in the background won't make us forget we've seen this a million times already. And since Joss Whedon just made fun of this genre with the solid Cabin in the Woods
, if I see you in person I will point my finger at you and yell "You got Whedoned!" I'm trying to make that a thing.
This isn't a huge waste of 90 minutes. There's plenty about it that's creepy--for starters, it's set in the Ukraine (where it's easy to imagine bread lines being the least of anyone's troubles, thanks to many movies portraying that part of the world as being a venus flytrap for tourists). Then there is the location, which has Serbia and Hungary masquerading as Pripyat (aka the 'burbs of Chernobyl), in all of its desolate splendor. As the vacationing young adults (including but not limited to the swoon-worthy Jesse McCartney) wander around, pawing through abandoned apartments, taking an endless stream of cell phone pictures and giggling among the ashes, the whole thing covers you in an iron curtain of dread. So there's that.
But interesting characters spouting memorable dialogue? They've left the (abandoned) building. I can't even remember who anyone really was. There’s Unremarkable Blondie (Ingrid Berdal), Thunder Down Under (Nathan Phillips), Irresponsible Goof Whom No One Will Miss Unless They're Drunk (Jonathan Sadowski), Token Devoted Girlfriend (Olivia Dudley), Independent and Sassy (Devin Kelley), and Whiny Judgmental (McCartney). That's the best I can do.
The bread and butter of the genre, though, is a reliance on these panicked youths running through the dark while you almost see something chasing them. They record shaky video to ratchet up the tension, all while being filmed by a real movie camera operated by someone who's had one too many cups of coffee at craft services, so leave your sensitive stomach at home (which you learned while watching Cloverfield). Since not seeing things is key, this movie’s not too different from any of those shaky-cam/found footage horror flicks of late.
So no, it's not horrible, thanks to a unique location and the general scariness of the genre. Just know that you're paying movie theater money to see a competent Video on Demand piece. And in the meantime, can we just leave big abandoned buildings alone?