Movie Reviews 279 – Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

chernobyl-diariesThe spectre of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster shocked the world in 1986 and that horror, while now contained in a man made ‘bunker’, still has lingering effects more than 30 years later. I recall reading Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl, a book detailing the disaster which was written by one of the American doctors called in to assist with the aftermath of the explosion. The book described in detail the effects of radiation and the grisly injuries inflicted on both some of the staff nearby when the explosion occurred and worse, the higher radiation doses subjected to the first responders called to address the situation, some knowingly sacrificing their lives to avert an even greater global disaster.

Another aspect dealt with in the book was how Pripyat, the small city neighboring the facility, basically created as a home for all the families of those who worked at Chernobyl and only a mere three kilometers apart, ended up being the epicenter of the crisis. A city literally vacated within hours, with residents dropping everything with minutes to spare as the evacuation roundup progressed.

Now that decades have passed since the disaster (sadly overshadowed by Fukushima), the area remains radiated but only mildly compared to the initial contamination. While still uninhabitable it has become safe enough to visit for brief periods. To serve the curious, the daring and perhaps the foolish, a small but vibrant tourist trade has sprung up in the last few years.  There, for very short periods, the curious and those seeking exotic adventure can briefly enter the restricted zone and linger for a few moments to take in the ghostly vistas of the desolate city ruins.

Chernobyl Diaries blends the tourism terrors of Turistas, the unseen dangers of The Descent and the bleak city landscapes of post-apocalyptic movies to deliver a quaint, semi-original tale.

A young couple Chris (Jesse McCartney) and Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) tote Natalie’s best friend Amanda (Olivia Taylor Dudley) to the Ukraine with plans to hook up with Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) before heading of to Moscow as the next leg of their worldwind vacation. With great reluctance on the part of Chris, Paul convinces the gang to forego Moscow and instead take up the offer from his  friend Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) who has a small business that  provides semi-official tours of the dilapidated Pripyat.

As they embark on their excursion they are joined by another young couple of foreign adventurers, Michael and Zoe, and together the entire gang take a two hour trip in a van to the derelict city. After a few interesting and scenic sights, it’s time to head back to safety but the van falters leaving them in a sticky situation.

With no communication, nobody on the outside knowing that they have gone there, tens of kilometers away from the nearest civilization, the group ponders staying stranded for the night. But Pripyat has a few secrets and the noises emanating in the dark may only be the rabid dogs they’ve heard stories about, or something else altogether.

The plots devolves into characters that go missing, get injured and die, but other than glimpses of humanoids scurrying in the background, we don’t learn much more. There is some tension, some question of trust, especially that of Yuri, but once that is settled, the movie just becomes a chase and survival flick. Too easy.

There are horrors that eventually reveal themselves but the the real horror of the Chernobyl tragedy surpases this lifeless cinematic opportunistic film. Watch a documentary on Chernobyl instead.

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