I remember when Chernobyl happened. In 1986, the Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant, Chernobyl, suffered a power surge in reactor #4. When they attempted an emergency shutdown, a second and more extreme power surge spiked, rupturing a reactor vessel and causing several explosions at its core. 28 emergency workers died from radiation poisoning and a recent report concludes that a final death toll will figure at around 9000 including Chernobyl related fatal Cancers. Chernobyl may have been over 25 years ago but it lives and breathes today. That very real fact is the basis for “Chernobyl Diaries”.
Christopher, Natalie, and they friend Amanda are on holiday in Eastern Europe and heading to visit Christopher’s brother Paul, who lives there. Chris (Jesse McCarney) is very straight laced, the kind of guy that would probably ponder the consequences of the “take a penny, leave a penny” dish when finding himself short at the local store. Natalie (Olivia Dudley) is a bit more fun-loving, the kind of girl that probably made all the moves in her relationship with Chris. She has her artsy photographer BFF Amanda (Devin Kelly) in tow after a break up and is trying to show her a good time.
It’s no wonder that when we meet Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), there seems to be a slight, but genuine tension between Chris and his sensibilities. Paul is the kind of guy that you see in a Budweiser beer commercial. He’s the guy that in the real world, you could see being friends with American Pie’s Steve Stiffler. Chris tells Paul that he plans on proposing to Natalie in Moscow. Paul seems happy for his brother and shares that he wants to tap Amanda. Chris hits the breaks on that one much to Paul’s chagrin.
The next morning at breakfast, Paul decides to derail the Moscow trip with something a little more exciting. He has met a tour guide named Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), an ex-special forces guy who runs an extreme tourism shop. Paul has signed them up for a trip to Pripyat, the city adjacent to Chernobyl, where the workers and their families lived. The town was evacuated two days after the disaster. Almost everything was left since the people were told that they would return after three days. It is literally a ghost town. They are joined by Michael (Nathan Phillips) and his girlfriend Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal).
The group gets to Pripyat but cannot enter. The guards are denying access to Uri. Determined, he takes a back road into the town and continues his tour. Pripyat is abandoned but far from deserted. Uri finds evidence that someone or something has been there recently. They return to the van to find that the cables have been cut and that they are stranded. As darkness falls the true inhabitants come out and all bets are off. The group suddenly finds itself the center of unwanted attention and options are few.
The cast is solid. Jonathan Sadowski is likable and alittle sleazy as Paul. He really comes off as the type of person that would get you into trouble but you would still find yourself coming back for more. McCarney, as Christopher is also good. He tries to give the character some depth as appossed to just a straight arrow and he succeeds to the exstent that the script lets him. It was a pleasure to see Nathan Phillips again as I have been a fan since Wolf Creek. His character Michael is a laid back rasta kind of guy on holiday with his new girlfriend Zoe. He’s a bit more rustic than the American guys though it wont save everyone.
As for the ladies, Olivia Dudley is eye catching and believable as Chris’s woman. She helps ground him as a believable person and not just a steriotype. As for Devin Kelly, she screams final girl from the moment we meet her. She is ridged and slightly scholarly, you know the type. Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Zoe has little to do but makes an impression through her reactrions as someone who loves her man and really is terrified for all involved.
One of the most terrifying side effects from this disaster was its effect on the life born after the accident. Over 350 animals were born missing heads, eyes, ribs and other body parts. Some were born with additional limbs and appendages. The human mutation number differs between a low of 3 and upwards of 100 depending on the source.
These facts are what Chernobyl Diaries uses as its spring board and it does it well. I don’t want to say too much about the actual film because the tension is its crowning achievement. It allows the viewer to use their imagination by showing you enough but not too much. It creates a realistic atmosphere and builds tension nicely. Its not a perfect film but much better than a lot of the crap making it to the screen these days. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is and that alone is a nice change. If you’re in the mood for big screen horror to start your summer off right, you could do worse.