Chernobyl Diaries REVIEW

Ah, SFX Weekender memories. Happy days.

Release Date: 22 October 2012
2012 | 15 | 85 minutes | £17.99 (DVD)/£22.99 (Blu-ray)
Distributor: Studiocanal
Director: Bradley Parker
Cast: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Devin Kelley, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips

Crikey, has it really been long enough for Chernobyl to become a suitable subject for exploitation? Apparently so. It’s 26 years since a nuclear reactor exploded in Ukraine, showering the surrounding area in fallout. Expect a Challenger Disaster chiller any moment now.

Given the title, you’re probably guessing “found-footage flick with Hills Have Eyes-style radioactive mutants”, right? Not far off. Like Hostel, Chernobyl Diaries posits that Eastern Europe is Hell for naïve American tourists. When six kids visit the deserted ruins of Prypiat (a real-life town evacuated back in 1986), they end up trapped in the radioactive exclusion zone, menaced by packs of wild dogs and something far, far worse…

Although based on a story by Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli, the movie is (with the exception of a brief snatch of smartphone footage) shot pretty conventionally. Diaries? What diaries? The results are surprisingly effective, mainly because abandoned towns, slowly crumbling into dust but still bearing poignant signs of everyday life, are inherently fascinating places. The carefully dressed bits and CGI-ed bits of Belgrade and Budapest which stand in here make for a wonderfully eerie setting.

Debutant director Brad Parker keeps things frenetic and dark, barrelling down claustrophobic corridors and ensuring you can never quite piece together an identikit picture of the unknown assailants. Chernobyl Diaries deserves no prizes for originality (or good taste) but it makes a decent fist of its simple pitch by executing everything it requires extremely efficiently.


An (abbreviated, inferior) alternate ending, a short deleted scene, a couple of promotional viral videos, and the trailer. The lack of any kind of behind-the-scenes featurette which explains how they recreated Prypiat is rather a disappointment.

Ian Berriman

For an alternate perspective, read our Chernobyl Diaries review from the theatrical release.