Chernobyl Diaries Spoiler Alert: Radiation Fears, But Few Real Frights

Oren Peli, the creator of Paranormal Activity, signs his name to a boilerplate, low-budget horror film where the "more-suspense, less-gore" formula comes up short

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Katalin Vermes / Alcon Entertainment / Film Nation Entertainment / Warner Bros.

From left: Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips, Jesse McCarntey and Dimitri Diatchenko in 'Chernobyl Diairies'

In Chernobyl Diaries, six young fools, including a pair of brothers with issues, a blonde with major cleavage and a smart(er) brunette, take a tourist tour of Chernobyl and neighboring Prypiat—the abandoned city where 50,000 people, mostly workers at the nuclear plant and their families, once lived. But Prypiat is not really abandoned. And everyone (or thing) that still lives there is radioactive, super hungry and has dreadful table manners.

The movie arrives with some heat because it has a connection to horror entrepreneur Oren Peli, the creator of Paranormal Activity. But while Peli served as writer/director/key grip/craft services manager etc. of the bare bones-micro budgeted Paranormal Activity, and produced its sequels (Paranormal Activity 4 should be out in time for Halloween) his contribution to Chernobyl Diaries seems to have been a limited affair. He didn’t direct; that honor fell to Bradley Parker, a special effects guy making his directorial debut.

Peli is listed as a producer, yes, and he gets credit for the story—which could mean he just came up with what you read in the first paragraph above—but shares the screenplay credit with two others, Carey and Shane Van Dyke. (Trivia you might find more entertaining than the movie: the Van Dyke brothers are the grandsons of Dick Van Dyke.) Presumably they are the authors of such gems as the line delivered by Uri the tour guide (Dimitri Diatchenko) in answer to concerns about visiting Chernobyl, even a generation after the 1986 disaster at the nuclear power plan: “Of course it is safe,” Uri says, flexing his pecs a little. “This is not my first rodeo.”

(MORE: The Paranormal Phenomenon)

It’s not ours either, Uri. Which is why we’re a little demanding about the quality of our bumps in the night. Paranormal Activity had some spine-tinglers: Random movements under the sheet in Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat’s bed? Those scratches on the cellar door? Scary. But most of the stuff in Chernobyl Diaries? Barely worth covering one eye for, let alone two. The basic problem is, it’s easy to relate to spooky stuff in a house, and even to not wanting to abandon said house—The economy! What are the resale chances these days? Who wouldn’t try to make a go of it with a little haunting? But when it comes to young people choosing to visit world famous environmental disaster sites when they could have just gone on to Moscow as planned? Sorry, our sympathy is limited. (Apparently people really do take tours of Prypiat. We don’t feel sorry for them either.)

Here’s the scarier stuff you’ll encounter in Chernobyl Diaries:

Dogs. They may have dallied with less tame species at some point and become their own breed. Wolfdoodles? Anyway, they can do a number on a human leg in no time flat. Nice boy and Mickey Rooney lookalike Chris (Jesse McCartney) discovers this the hard way. The wolfdoodles are prone to giving chase but will stop at a body of water. I questioned this; my dog plunges right into every body of water he encounters, even one composed of just one inch of water and three of mud. And a further logistical issue: I swear the dogs were wagging their tails.

A bear. Disappointing use of the ursine character though; he races through an abandoned apartment complex and is never seen again. This could have been an affordability issue; stunt bears aren’t a dime a dozen.

Fish. With teeth and again, great hunger. Don’t fall into any body of water. So maybe those wolfdoodles were on to something after all.

Deer. At least they looked like deer, throwing themselves at Uri’s van, after the wires had been cut and just as the batteries were running out. They could have been the wolfdoodles.

A small child in tattered clothing. Standing with his or her back to the dopes (at that point, down to five). Everyone knows that all small children are to be avoided in any horrifying situation, especially ones with their backs to you on your second day trapped at Chernobyl. Whatever you do, don’t approach them or try to woo them with your Russian.

Bald people in nondescript gray outfits. Behavior zombie-like but erratic. Very interested in pursuing foolish young Americans. But to what end? Note to Parker: Can we get a better sense of their motivation?

So who else saw Chernobyl Diaries? What did you think about the movie? Were you scared at all? Please let us know in the comments below.

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