CONTAINS SPOILERS AND A SENSE OF UNDERWHELM THAT WAS ENTIRELY EXPECTED
The most significant, as in "the most familiar", name on the poster for this cheap shocker is not director Brad Parker (it's his first film after ten years in digital effects), or any of the cast: Ingrid Bolso Berdal was in the engaging Cold Prey slasher films, Jesse McCartney appears to be best known as a voice artiste in animation (he's one of the chipmunks in the Alvin series), and Nathan Phillips has been in loads of things from Wolf Creek to Snakes On A Plane to, er, Neighbours. (Isn't the IMDb a useful resource?) It's actually Oren Peli, who kicked off the increasingly tedious Paranormal Activity series and thus is at least partially responsible for the ongoing wave of unwatchable "found footage" horror bores in which clueless halfwits tried desperately to pretend they hadn't slung together some incoherent spooky nonsense with a Sony Handycam they found in Cash Converters. The Devil Inside, Evil Things and Evidence are pretty much as bad as movies can get.
So when people in my Twitterfeed started seeing previews of Chernobyl Diaries, my only question was not "is it scary?" or "is it any good?", but simply "is it found footage?". Mercifully it isn't - although there are two sequences where they succumb to this damnable excuse for a technique - but ultimately that's pretty much all it's got going for it. Three American tourists on a Grand Tour Of Europe (mysteriously including London twice, if we believe the opening montage, which I suppose we have to because that's one of the "found" sequences) divert from their schedule at the behest of an expat brother in order to take in Prypiat, the abandoned ghost town right next to the Chernobyl reactor. With another couple of tourists and their tour guide Yuri, they spend a few hours poking around the apartment blocks. But they might not be alone....
It's not "found", although it has that same jittery, hand-held, mid-definition digital look to it: there's editing and occasional use of a music score (though it's basically a set of ambient electronic noises rather than actual music). And the movie has a terrific setting in its silent city of dust, debris and darkness, partly reclaimed by nature as the weeds grow through the concrete but still home to wild dogs and hideously mutated fish in the river. Sadly, it's not scary (there are a couple of effective enough jump moments but that's all) and reduces to a dwindling band of shouty idiots squabbling in the dark and being chased around by barely discerned monsters.
I'm not entirely convinced about the science behind the movie, which seems to suggest that the radiation comes and goes in isolated patches and, given that they're not supposed to stay for more than a couple of hours, it seems odd that no-one queries the idea of spending up to two days there. Still, the locations are fantastic (it wasn't shot at Prypiat but in Hungary and Serbia, though it certainly looks like Prypiat from the numerous online images, including the giant Ferris wheel). And as for who or what the creatures are, that's left until the last few minutes before the final shot, which is really the only genuinely horrific moment in the whole film. It's not as boring as I'd feared, but it's not as scary as its marketing suggests either, or as scary as it should (and could) have been.