“Chernobyl Diaries” had potential to be a great (and possibly even original) horror movie, but it leaves viewers asking for more at the end, and not in the good way either.
The basic plot is that four friends are vacationing in Europe, hopping from country to country and enjoying the sights until they reach the Ukraine, where they meet up with the older brother of one of the friends who schedules a surprise trip to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant through an illegal tour company. As they are about to wrap up the tour, they discover that their van has been disabled, and they become trapped in the radioactive town of Pripyat near the plant.
To be completely fair, the movie was good. Until you reach a certain point and realizing that it is snowballing to an end, you’re completely sucked in. The basic problem with the movie is the lack of a payoff. Viewers are left with questions that are answered sloppily at best, if at all. And certain characters who are built up to do something great are killed off without them having realized their potential. While some of the deaths are appropriately abrupt, others are too glazed over, leaving you wondering what the point of the character was in the first place.
We’re going to breech protocol and offer up a spoiler here to illustrate the point, you’ve been warned.
Two of the friends are actually in a relationship, with Chris (Jesse McCartney, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked”) planning to propose later on in the trip. At one point, he is injured by the radioactive mutant people suddenly running loose at night, and stays in the van with his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley, in her first lead roll) while the rest of the stranded tourists go for help. When the tourists find wires that the van needs to run they head back to their friends, only to discover the van in shambles and their friends gone. They find their video camera, which shows Chris trying to propose, but then the video shows the van being attacked before cutting out. Later, those still alive find Natalie alive, but no Chris. Later, they find the engagement ring, but again, no Chris. Not even a corpse.
The reason this passiveness ruins the character is because he is a main character. He is also the sensible one, but with a bit of a temper. He butts heads with his brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski, “The Goods: Live hard, Sell Hard”), and there is a fairly big rift between them when they separate and Chris ends up “missing” (read: eaten somewhere). The movie makes a huge point of creating this huge tension between the brothers, bringing up past issues while new ones are being introduced, and these issues are never resolved. They are built up to a point where you are just waiting for him to snap…and then he’s gone. Out of the movie entirely. His reserved but minor displays of toughness give the impression that he is going to do something fantastic later in the movie. Maybe he’ll die in the van while shooting mutants to save his girlfriend, or maybe he’ll even defy all the odds and survive until the end of the movie. You form expectations for the character, and then he disappears. You don’t even get the satisfaction of witnessing his death. It just happens, somewhere off screen, and you have to accept it.
The acting in “Chernobyl Diaries” was actually great, McCartney and Sadowski especially. The two were every bit the bickering brothers they portrayed, and the level of emotion they expressed was beautiful as it was tragic. Sadowski stood out even more, mostly because he was in the movie longer and had more chances to impress, but still.
The movie offered an interesting plot with a few memorable characters and great acting, but the writing itself was just terrible. Wait to see it until it’s on DVD.