Some films you want to check out as soon as they hit the theatres. And then there's others like Chernobyl Diaries, that don't look all that great, yet somehow intriguing enough to prompt a rental. That being said, I managed my expectations to a range between low and mild, which is probably the main reason why it never struck me with any sort of disappointment. Except for the very ending that is, but I'll get to that later on.
Created by Oren Peli, the man behind the Paranormal Activity series, it does sail in the same wake of the cinema verité genre, although isn't really a "found footage" film, as the handheld camera isn't operated by any of the characters. What is present, however, is many of the typical tropes, as a group of 20-something tourists venture without second thought to a hostile environment, packing themselves very lightly with only beef jerky to fill their stomachs with. Because apparently, that's all the sustenance they need.
Besides the obvious lapses in logic, the story concept per se is pretty much a horror-maker's wet dream. Setting the stage in a venue as spooky as Chernobyl - which for those that don't know, was the site of a terrible nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in 1986 - infused the premise with amazing potential. The fact that it's partially shot on location, also bestowed it with the sensation of an exclusive tour in one of the world's most creepy locales.
Granted that the final product isn't as frightening as it should be, but it's decently taut scare fare, that held my interest throughout. The Fallout 3-reminiscent ambience made for an exciting watch and the no-name cast perform their roles with solidity. The only segment that really bothered me was the lousy, unexplanatory ending, but I suppose that goes with the territory. The average viewer is likely to repel this film (God knows the critics did), but in my book it wasn't bad on the whole. An underrated horror expedition, that ironically enough, isn't a total disaster.