Scattered stretches of suspense and a few undeniably potent shocks are not enough to dissipate the sense of deja vu that prevails throughout “Chernobyl Diaries,” a wearyingly predictable thriller about “extreme tourists” who unwisely venture into a veritable ghost town near the site of the infamous nuclear power plant disaster. Destined for quick playoff as counterprogramming against pricier summer-season releases, the pic may test the patience of even the least discriminating genre fans. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t sell enough tickets during its opening weekend alone to cover the costs of production and advertising.
Six twentysomething vacationers in Kiev — two squabbling brothers (Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney), a resourceful brunette (Devin Kelley), a panicky blonde (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and a couple (Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Nathan Philips) clearly on hand only to up the body count — board the van of a burly tour guide (Dimitri Diatchenko) for a day trip to Pripyat, the once-thriving settlement that was depopulated by a government-mandated evacuation following the 1986 Chernobyl power plant catastrophe.
The guide promises that, if they don’t dally too long, they can, without fear of radiation contamination, tour the long-abandoned city, and even wander through dilapidated apartment complexes that once housed thousands.
But when they’re ready to depart, they find the van won’t start. Night falls. And while stranded in the darkness, the visitors anxiously note disturbing signs that … well, that maybe they’re not alone.
Working from a prefab script co-written by “Paranormal Activity’s” Oren Peli, helmer Brad Parker sustains interest much longer than might seem possible by relying on unsettling insinuations — a stirring shadow here, a bloody handprint there — rather than graphic mayhem.
Even after packs of ravenous dogs make their presence known, “Chernobyl Diaries” gets a lot of mileage out of the low-tech expedient of having people running around in the dark, screaming and cursing, desperately waving their flashlights while attempting to locate safe exits and/or unseen threats.
Ultimately, though, the filmmakers are unable to deliver a satisfying payoff for all their buildup. And it doesn’t help that the actors, while very good at running and yelling, are less than successful at generating a rooting interest in their thinly written characters.
Final scenes shamelessly recycle cliches and contrivances from a dozen or so other sci-fi thrillers involving contamination and coverups. Auds who know anything about real-life conditions in post-Chernobyl Pripyat — information easily obtainable by anyone with Internet access — will be hard-pressed not to laugh out loud at the silliness of the pic’s ending. But, then again, those folks might also find it hard not to giggle during the rest of “Chernobyl Diaries.”
Filmed on location in Serbia and Hungary, the pic boasts adequate production values. But nothing here comes across as flat-out spooky as “Pripyat,” Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s 1999 documentary about life in the blighted city, a real-life horror movie in which the stark black-and-white lensing of deserted streets, ramshackle buildings, weed-choked fields and stern-faced military guards unnervingly recalls the visual tropes of low-budget, post-apocalyptic sci-fi melodramas of the 1950s.