Don't you hate it when the end of a movie ruins something that was actually going pretty well. You're all prepared to walk out of the movie happy with what you saw when you get hit with something so out of place or poorly done that the entire film starts to feel bad. The ending's flaws start to bring out other flaws in the film you may have disregarded previous to seeing said ending. It's actually impressive how even just five minutes of film can ruin the, let's say, 85 minutes before it.
And what do you know. 90 minutes is that exact running time of Chernobyl Diaries. Must be a coincidence.
The end of Chernobyl Diaries feels so out of the place with the rest of the film and so abrupt that I actually felt myself jerking forward in my seat like someone had slammed on the breaks when it kicked in. For the most part the film is compentently directed, tense horror film that never rises above the standard cliches of its genre, but does thing smart enough to keep you scared. Then suddenly, during a scene which is actually quite thrilling and could have been horrifying if it hadn't ended, the movie pretty much just stops and veers off into another direction that doesn't jive with the previous 85 minutes at all. It's like someone picked up an unfinished script and figured the only way to finish it was to end it on the next page.
But discussing the ending before discussing the rest of the film is a bit backwards. Chernobyl Diaries is the same old set up as every other horror film out there. A group of college-age students goes some place they aren't supposed to go and gets systematically slaughtered. The catch here is that the place they aren't supposed to guy is Pripyat, the city outside of Chernobyl, which has been abandoned since the nuclear disaster that occurred there. The group takes a tourist trip to the ghost city (a thing that one can actually do evidently) and it all goes downhill from there. Some of the film was actually filmed in the area and there are few things creepier than abandoned, old buildings so the setting is definitely ripe for a horror film. You even have the built in excuse of nuclear radiation for whatever fiends your film is concocting.
For the first 85 minutes director Bradley Parker actually concocts pretty darn well. Avoiding the trap of becoming a gore fest and using the abandoned, maze-like buildings and the dark well Parker actually comes up with plenty of ways to keep the audience scared and not through cheap jumps. The film wisely keeps most of the violence off screen, leaving the viewers imagination to take over, and most of the tension comes from the unknown. In fact you never get a good clean shot of the things after the unlucky idtiotic group of youngsters and for most of the film the terror is truly unknown. Adding to the tension is the omnipresent danger of radiation burning the skin off of everyone.
Obviously plenty of liberties are taken with what is actually going on at Chernobyl and what occurs in the film. These are the kinds of flaws that are always present in horror films, and are accompanied by stupid decisions and people yelling other people's names out loud when they should really be quiet. Chernobyl Diaries has an overwhelming amount of these cliches in it, and once you get past the location the lack of originality in the film is quite impressive. There's practically nothing new in this movie that hasn't been done before. However, the cliches are handled well enough that they don't ruin the scares even if you are slapping your forehead repeatedly as the group makes poor decision after poor decision.
What does ruin the scares is an ending that completely contradicts all the compliments given to this film. In one fell swoop the film veers away from its unknown terror feeling and dives headlong into the kind of idiocy you can't forgive. Most of the terror gets sucked away as you scratch your head in how disconnected the tone of the ending seems from the rest of the film. It's obviously hard to discuss without spoiling things, but suffice to say that going from a movie where you're smartly keeping all the real monsters off screen to one where you're explaining everything out in the open is not a good idea.
Chernobyl Diaries is a great movie to rent and watch for 85 minutes and the eject the disk. It's not revolutionizing the genre, but within the confines of what it is it can be scary. Just avoid the ending like a pretty girl avoiding an unseen horror trying to kill her and you'll be just fine.