directory Bradley Parker
Co-written, co-produced, and adapted from a story by Oren Peli (he of Paranormal Activity (2007) notoriety), Chernobyl Diaries is a horror film that trades primarily on its eerie setting. A group of American travelers visiting Kiev, Ukraine, decide to venture on a bit of “extreme tourism”, hooking up with a former military guide named Yuri, to Prypiat, the abandoned city where the workers at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had lived up until the Chernobyl Disaster in 1986. The city was evacuated in a sudden rush, leaving a ghost town, far too radioactive for many years for humans to access. Only now, supposedly, has the radioactivity receded enough for short, surreptitious visits to explore its ghostly atmosphere.
While the film wasn’t really shot in Prypiat (and was considered by some to be exploitative of the disaster), there is a real point of fascination with the area. I’d read an article from Wired Magazine about the area and the way that nature had “taken back” the prohibited space, really painting an intriguing image of the aftermath of what is considered the most devastating nuclear disaster to date.
The film plays well with this mystery, or set of mysteries. With an Australian guy and his Norwegian gal in tow, we’ve got the group of six people who, according to horror standards, will be knocked off one by one. Only at first, what the danger is looms in question? Mutant fish? Killer dogs? Radioactive brown bears? Or…something weirder?
I watched (not sure why since I rarely watch tv dramas) Peli’s “faux found footage” television series The River, which probably provided me with a good sense of the tricks that Peli’s work has up its sleeves. Luckily, this film isn’t “faux found footage” for the most part, but the dramatic builds, the surprises, the twists, the tweaking of the mystery, all moderately able, were pretty recognizable as they unfolded.
The film is a nice concise 86 minutes, but certain bits of development feel more rushed than others. And one other shortcoming is that you can kind of tell by looks who the final survivors will be pretty early on. And sadly, they aren’t necessarily the most interesting characters.
If it wasn’t for having read the Wired Magazine article, I don’t know if this film would have intrigued me the way it did. It was moderately entertaining.
Though perhaps the reality is more interesting than the horror fantasy staged within it.