Directed by Oren Peli. Starring Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips 16 cert, general release, 86 min
WOW, OREN PELI, the creator-director of Paranormal Activity, is a freaking genius.
He’s only gone and created a thriller set in the abandoned town of Prypiat. The former metropolis was once home to the drones at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and their families. Now it’s a spectacularly spooky spot replete with the – yay – eerie, rusty Prypiat Ferris Wheel and the dusty City Center Gymnasium.
The premise, too, has a creepy elegance. A gang of disagreeable American tourists stop off in Kyiv, where they get the idea to indulge in some extreme tourism. A military tough (Dimitri Diatchenko) takes our kids, together with a Norwegian and an Australian backpacker, around the reactor where it soon transpires – altogether now – that they are not alone.
It’s a killer hook, but once the affably gruff guide disappears, there’s not so much as a Final Girl to hold on to. Or maybe there is. It’s hard to tell in the murk. Hiding the monster(s) is a good idea on cheap and cheerful digital but, in common with Silent House and Apollo 18, Chernobyl Diaries crosses the fine line between cunningly obscuring and “what the hell is that?” The characters are thoroughly unlikable yet not unlikable or even distinct enough for us to will them to a Hostel- worthy fate. What a pity.
On a good day, Peli seems to have the potential to be a hyphenate movie mogul in the manner of Spielberg or Abrams. Sadly, Chernobyl Diaries turns out to be weaker than Paranormal Activity 3, the flimsiest flick in Peri’s boffo box-office sequence. Like Project X, the film is post- found footage; it’s happy to use the devices established by the sub-genre, but its equally happy to cheat and ignore the rules.
Are the special interest lobbies right to take offence at the notion of some class of mutant prowling around Chernobyl? Oscar Wilde’s yardstick about good and bad books comes to mind: it’s not that the film has gone there; it’s just that it’s problematically crummy.
True, it’s no Chernobyl-sized catastrophe, but it does feel like we’re sitting downwind from Sellafield or Three Mile Island. Does this mole look funny to you?