Writer-producer Oren Peli knows how to establish a situation and get lots of scares out of little action. Unfortunately, he has so far been unable to match the success he found with his first film, the 2009 release “Paranormal Activity,” which he also directed. His latest movie, “Chernobyl Diaries,” is a new release DVD now available at your Roanoke Valley Public Library. While it starts off with an interesting premise in a creepy location it fails to deliver that final big jolt when it ends.
The movie takes us to the abandoned Ukrainian city of Pripyat. Founded in 1970 to house the employees of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the populace was immediately evacuated following the explosion of reactor four in 1986. Six extreme tourists travel to the ghost town in a rickety van with a shady tour guide. Supposedly bereft of life, the travelers discover they are not alone when they become stranded just before nightfall.
Initially, “Chernobyl Diaries” has several good things going for it. The cast of fresh faces gives solid performances with a variety of characters to like, find obnoxious and be uncertain of. The desolate landscape of crumbling apartment buildings and a dilapidated Ferris wheel remind us just how fleeting and fragile our lives are and show how quickly nature reclaims what we vacate. There is also a readily built in fear factor with radiation, wild ravenous animals and the utter hopelessness of being unable to contact the outside world.
Yet while the journey is quite effective, it weakens the closer it gets to the conclusion. The startling early scenes in which we do not get clear views of what is out there give way to more visible standard horror film fare and an ending that we see coming. The short viral video on the so-called Chernobyl conspiracy is a nice DVD bonus feature that is overall creepier than the movie.