Written by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) who also adapted the story for the screen with Carey and Shane Van Dyke (sons of Dick Van Dyke) and directed by Bradley Parker (better known for visual effects) Chernobyl Diaries started off with signs of a promisingly good film.
Unfortunately this promise soon vanished when the film turned into a vapid repeat of the flavour of the moment, i.e. zombies or at the very least zombie-like creatures.
Following the theme of Urban Exploration aka Extreme Tourism, a group of twenty-somethings all get together for a slightly “less-than-legal” tour of Pripyat, the specially constructed town that was built for the Ukrainian workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. In 1986 every man, woman and child was evacuated from Pripyat when one of the reactors at Chernobyl exploded.
The plot is as follows: A group of young adults, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and their mutual friend Amanda (Devin Kelley), are traveling across Europe. They stop in Kiev, Ukraine, to visit Chris’s brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), before heading on to Moscow where Chris intends to propose to Natalie. [courtesy of Wikipedia]
Paul talks Chris, Natalie and Amanda into going on a tour of Pripyat. Chris has some serious misgivings about this but he is outvoted by girlfriend Natalie and Amanda.
All four of them meet up with tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and they are joined by a Nordic girl and her Australian boyfriend. Uri has done the tour many times and he assures the holiday makers that it will be safe and that the radiation levels are acceptable. He also tells them that the maximum amount of time they will spend there will be two hours.
When the group arrive at the guarded entrance to Pripyat, the guards tell Uri that he cannot take his group in as there is some sort of maintenance going on and it isn’t safe. Paul is upset as he has pre-paid and Uri assures him that he knows of another way in and that the tour will proceed.
Taking the “back door” into the deserted city, the group eventually arrive and proceed with the tour. They are getting their money’s worth until they find that their touring van has been damaged and they cannot get out. Uri goes to investigate, with Chris hot on his heels.
Paul chases after the both of them. Uri is taken by a something, Chris is horribly injured and Paul is freaked out. Thus begins the spiral down into mediocrity that is Chernobyl Diaries.
The best character in the film is Uri. Unfortunately he is not in the film long enough to save it. But as he is written and acted you can see the unease that he has with what he is doing. He fears and respects the off-limits area and he feels for the people who were caught up in the 1986 disaster.
At one point he even has tears in his eyes as he surveys the ruin that the city has become.
Unfortunately Uri is the only character that is not a cardboard cut-out. The American group are all two dimensional and vapid. The Norwegian and Australian are very similar and none of them elicit any feelings of compassion by the viewer. Well at least not the two viewers who watched the film on Blu-ray last night.
What could have been a great film dealing with the issues of radiation poisoning and mutated animals and getting stranded in such a sad and desolate place and having to escape packs of wild starving dogs was instead turned into a “run-of-the-mill” creature feature.
The obligatory zombie like creatures were trotted out and used to “nom-nom” on the remaining tourists and nibble their numbers slowly down. Even after the final two survivors are “saved” (and oh boy, we didn’t see that coming did we *cue sarcasm*) their final moments are again clichéd and cheapened.
Following the formula of “stranger in a strange land” that is so popular when dealing with Slavic countries, Diaries overlooks the seriousness of the Chernobyl disaster and the after effects that the Ukraine suffered (not to mention how the catastrophe affected the rest of the world).
The film does look good though. Filming in Serbia and Hungary and using a deserted Russian Air Force Base as their filming locations, apart from the occasional gaffe, seems to have worked very well.
What is interesting to note is that “legal” tours are actually allowed into the city of Pripyat. Your tour guide will be a Ukrainian minister of government and it will set you back about $150 or £100 pounds. Although, unlike the city’s appearance as depicted in the film, you will find inhabitants and workers still living there. Granted, not a lot, but there nonetheless. The radiation levels have lowered sufficiently for official tours to take place.
Perhaps if Oren Peli had gotten the green light for his film a decade earlier it would not only have been a “trendsetter” but it would have paved the way for Extreme Tourism.
My final verdict is this, watch it for Uri’s character and then turn the film off after Uri disappears. Or better yet, just wait for it to come on television.
- Chernobyl Diaries Go on an Extreme Tour with Uri! (dreadcentral.com)
- Chernobyl Diaries DVD Review (thepeoplesmovies.com)
- ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ Is Like the Real Chernobyl, in That There’s Nothing There (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Best Chernobyl Documentary: The Battle of Chernobyl (2006) (rovemonteux.net)
- PHOTOS: Touring Chernobyl And The Lost Town Of Pripyat (huffingtonpost.com)
- Film Review: Chernobyl Diaries (2012) (ddmboss.wordpress.com)
- Chernobyl Diaries (cognitivereflection.wordpress.com)
- Nuclear tourism brings millions of profit (english.pravda.ru)