Spoiler alert:Chernobyl Diaries is toxic waste. Based on a premise by Paranormal Activity director Peli, Chernobyl Diaries tags along with a group of American backpackers visiting Kiev — the usual boring actors giving boring readings of boring dialogue, which constitutes our contemporary conception of realism.
Signing up for a guided “extreme tourism” trip to Pripyat, the worker’s city left abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster, they find themselves abandoned and trapped in a no-man’s-land, which they soon discover is not precisely uninhabited. Save for a couple of sequences, Diaries doesn’t adopt the now-ubiquitous camcorder found-footage premise, but the one-of-the-gang POV handheld camerawork is still deliberately amateurish enough to keep lurking threats just on the edge of visibility, a strategy that is later furthered by nighttime shooting with slashing flashlights as, after a fair job of sustaining suspense, the chase commences outright.
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It has been argued that the essence of moving pictures is motion, the medium’s capacity for visceral excitement, but if this 90-minute rundown is “pure cinema,” then the whole medium wouldn’t amount to much more than a barrel ride.