Just over 25 years ago, one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant suffered a meltdown. It was the worst disaster in the history of nuclear power. Four hundred times more radioactive material was released than at Hiroshima. It is difficult to estimate the actual deaths indirectly attributable to the incident, or the impact on health and life. At the very least, several hundred direct deaths have been confirmed, and it was a crippling blow to the Russian economy.
Approximately 135,000 people had to be evacuated from the surrounding areas. An uninhabited zone with a 20 mile radius known as the “zone of alienation” surrounds the concrete and lead sarcophagus that nuclear officials constructed on the site in order to contain the radiation. It has been estimated that this zone will be unsafe for human habitation for 20,000 years.
“Chernobyl Diaries” has the gall to create a horror movie about young people who recklessly sight-see this area… as if we wouldn’t want to see them killed.
I have some major issues with “Chernobyl Diaries”, but none so daunting as the behavior of the characters. Routinely, the characters of this movie defy common sense, logic and the basic tenets of survival.
Nowhere is this more egregious than the initial decision to go to Chernobyl to begin with. A trio of young people – a young man, his girlfriend, and one of her friends – go to Kiev to visit the young man’s brother. There, they’re convinced to forego a planned trip to Moscow and go to Chernobyl, instead.
It’s abandoned, it’s a whole city with no people! It’s a ghost town!
No $&@#%ing shit it’s a ghost town, it glows in the dark!
Ok. Ok. They have to get these people to Chernobyl somehow, or there’s no movie. So I talked myself off the ledge momentarily – for about five minutes. Then the movie introduces how they’re all going to Chernobyl. The brother has signed them up with Uri, a sketchy Russian who runs an “extreme tourism” business. By himself. Out of like a hole in the wall with a bunch of pamphlets. When he loads the six of them (the main group of four is joined by two more at the last minute) into his van, I was literally thinking “There’s a 33% chance these dudes get killed and these three chicks wind up sex slaves in some Ukrainian hovel”.
They don’t, of course. Instead they wind up traipsing through the abandoned city of Prypiat, taking pictures of abandoned buildings and talking about how cool it is to be in an abandoned city. Predictably, their van breaks down and they’re trapped in the ruins after dark. And of course… there’s some manner of mutant beast and or beasts stalking them.
Which is a good thing, because the idiotic tourists need more opportunities to act idiotically. Leave the safety of the locked van? Check. Stay in the area in spite of mounting danger? Check. Follow thick drag trails of blood into dark and dangerous areas, unarmed, in search of their vanishing companions? Check.
In spite of all of this, the movie almost… almost won me over. It’s actually a decent (albeit disrespectful) setting for a horror movie. And I’m used to horror movie characters acting dumb, that gets taught in Horror Movie 101. There was a certain point where the movie could have risen past its sub par setup and become a decent horror movie. Unfortunately, it just finds new ways to be uninspired. It overplays the “don’t show the shark” card to a ridiculous degree, and way too much of the film is in the dark. I mean, I understand there’s no lights there, and they have no flashlights and whatnot, but c’mon.
And to top it all off? The movie has a stupid, stupid, stupid conclusion. I won’t spoil it outright, but man… it is dumb.
“Chernobyl Diaries” might be acceptable if you’re looking to watch people get hunted and run around screaming in the dark, but that’s about the best it has to offer.