Opening up against Men In Black 3, Chernobyl Diaries is tracking to earn $10 million to $15 million at the box office over Memorial Day weekend. But with a Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer score of just 26%, many critics found the Warner Bros./Alcon horror flick frighteningly bad.
Directed by Brad Parker, the film’s story was developed by Paranormal Activity writer-director Oren Peli. It follows six twentysomethings as they explore the ruins of Pripyat, Ukrainian, a town supposedly deserted after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. The town turns out not to be as empty as expected.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck called the film a “basic monster movie that benefits greatly from its unique setting.” It was largely shot in Eastern Europe, a novel locale for the horror genre. But for Scheck, the novelty eventually wore off.
"Even with its brisk 90-minute running time (including credits), Chernobyl Diaries soon proves repetitive with its endless scenes of the frightened victims wandering into forbidding environs only to keep running into things that go bump in the night,” Scheck wrote.
New York Times critic Andy Webster complained that unlike classic horror films such as Psycho (which could be read as an Oedipus tale) and the original Dawn of the Dead (which has themes of anti-consumerism), Chernobyl Diaries conveys no such larger message.
“You could conceivably consider it a warning about nuclear power, but it’s really about the dangers of seeking adventure in a foreign country and trusting former Soviets,” Webster wrote. “But please, don’t give it that much thought.”
Writing for Slate, Dana Stevens extolled the Paranormal Activity films’ commitment to the found-footage format, and lamented that type of “inventiveness is direly absent from Chernobyl Diaries.” She suggested another name for the film: “Six Dumbasses in Search of a Clue,” and questioned the plausibility of the “well-heeled” characters wanting to take a tour of a nuclear disaster zone.
In a review published in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen wrote the film failed to shock or surprise.
“The lack of suspense and surprise in this dispiritingly rote film becomes its own form of contamination,” Olsen wrote, who also complained the characters “lack personalities beyond bare-bones building blocks.”