Film Reviews

"Chernobyl Diaries" Movie Review: A Toxic Waste of Handheld Cameras

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.

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.

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Nick Pinkerton
Contact: Nick Pinkerton