Chernobyl Diaries review: All Aboard the Idiot Train

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Radiation

You take your beautiful girlfriend and another friend of yours on a tour of Europe. Mid-trip, you stop in Kiev, Ukraine to visit your brother Paul. You don’t intend to stay long; just enough time to meet up, have a good time, and be on your way to Moscow, where you plan on proposing to your girlfriend. Everything’s set. The ring’s in your coat pocket, and when you show it to Paul he’s genuinely excited for you. The time you spent in Europe could not have been better, and everything seems to be going right for once… But then Paul, being the risk-taking older brother he is, decides to screw everything up the very morning you’re supposed to leave as a way of saying goodbye.

Chris (played by Jessie McCartney in the only notable performance of the entire movie) has this problem. His brother (Jonathan Sadowski) has decided to change up Chris’ plans with a surprise – an “extreme” tour of the abandoned town Prypiat, better known as the town where the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster happened in 1986. According to the former-Special Ops tour guide, Yurii (Dimitri Diatchenko), the town has recently been deemed “safe” for such tours – provided you only stay a couple of hours and don’t take anything back with you and hide your cameras at all checkpoints. Wouldn’t want to cause any trouble, right?

The problem with this set up, and the one thing I have neglected to mention until now, is that when judging this set up, keep this in mind: everybody’s dumber than a sack of bricks. Except for Chris, but of course no one listens to him, being the younger brother and all.

I hope for his sake, Jessie can soon move on to roles that’ll actually further his career…

I’m completely serious when I say that I cannot recall one good decision made by any of the other main characters at any point during the movie. They seem attracted to making the worst decisions whenever possible. Whether it’s following their guide into the forest while he deals with very agitated (and very rabid) animals, or ignoring the ever-present Geiger counter when it tells them to stop and turn around because they’re about get cancer. Any and all sympathy for these characters disappears when you realize that they really are too dumb to live.

Thankfully (or perhaps I should say luckily), the cinematography is decent enough to keep the movie watchable. The beauty of Europe is in no way tarnished here, and it does a good enough job to give the feeling that you’re right there with the characters when they take their tour. However, this being a horror movie and all, it feels appropriate to mention that its attempts at making the audience jump are half-hearted at most. It nails the build up of tension, but the payoff is almost always weak. So, largely, its best quality is a wash, in and of itself.

I’d love to think what the writers (including Shane Van Dyke, who has the dubious honor of both being related to Dick Van Dyke and being the director and star of Titanic II) were going for with Chernobyl Diaries was a character-driven story set amidst the horrible speculation of what may actually be going at Chernobyl, and perhaps that is why the zombies (and I use that generally) don’t matter much until late in the movie. But with characters as horrible with these, I can’t help but think like they’re meant as a parody of the typical “American tourists are idiots” stereotype, which means that this is a character-driven drama starring characters that are more or less meant to be unlikable.

Yeah, that doesn’t work. And neither does this movie.