Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries

The creator of Paranormal Activity follows up his success with a low fi suspense horror set in an abandoned Russian city deserted by its workers after the Chernobyl disaster…

Oren Peli, the man who brought you the standout horror-thriller ‘Paranormal Activity’, has ventured into new horror territory with ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ (out 22 June in the UK).

The film follows six young American twenty-somethings who go on a tour of Europe and end up visiting family in Russia, where they hire a Russian extreme tour guide to take them off the beaten track and show them the Russia that few tourists ever get to see. Ignoring Government and military warnings the extreme tourists visit the deserted city of Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, who were forced to leave their homes in scant minutes when the reactor blew a quarter of a century ago. As they explore the abandoned city the group soon finds themselves stranded, and it’s only when they’re desperate to leave, working against the ticking clock of a rising geiger counter, that they find they are not alone…

The Chernobyl Diaries was filmed on location in Hungary and Serbia. It could be argued that the film is, like the characters, holidaying in other people’s misery. The Friends of Chernobyl Centers US claimed the film was insensitive to the workers who had died; in response, producer Oren Peli said the film was done with respect for the victims, and that Israeli charity Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl had written him a letter expressing their “admiration” and “kudos” for his creation.

Regardless of where you stand on the matter, the real star of the film is the abandoned city itself, eerie and atmospheric in this well-told low-fi budget horror. Abandoned May Day ferris wheels, plants growing through the cracks of playgrounds, flats filled with abandoned knick-knacks gathering dust… the effect is haunting, as it always is when we see human creations no longer serving their purpose – like a broken doll, or a slumped robot with the light gone out of its eyes.

‘Chernobyl Diaries’ is no SFX-laden blockbuster. The chills are provided by effective layers of suspense, spoiled only slightly by the hackneyed cliches of the characters (except the doughty Russian ex-army tour guide, who is meaty and convincing and eats up the screen whenever he’s on it).

As for what could be lurking in the abandoned workers’ city… it’s a place no-one could live in, for radiation levels mean humans can only stay there for a few hours at a time. There’s something wrong with the fish in the water. Sounds are heard at night. What’s there? You decide. You’ll find out, soon enough…

In all, Chernobyl Diaries is a low-fi thriller that focuses on dramatic settings and taut atmosphere to carry it through, and the harrowingly deserted location is the real star. Add it to your list of horror films to see in 2012.

3.5 Stars