This Oren Peli-penned nuclear nightmare is packed with solid genre spills.
The nuclear family reimagined as a monstrous clan featured prominently in Wes Craven’s 1977 shocker, The Hills Have Eyes, and provides a ready springboard for Brad Parker’s unambitious but entertaining chiller, Chernobyl Diaries.
Horror cinema boasts a great track record in reimagining very real, palpable existential worries. Fukushima might be too soon but, hey, Chernobyl is history now. As with Xavier Gens’ The Divide and Sion Sono’s forthcoming Land of Hope, fears about nuclear technology are firmly back on the agenda.
The strongest asset of this latest Oren Peli-penned production are the locations (the film was shot in Hungary and Serbia). Derelict spaces and an eerie calm are excellently depicted. The wide open spaces are deceptively claustrophobic. Wander into a radiation hotspot and things can turn ugly very quickly.
Parker wisely takes a leaf out of legendary producer Val Lewton’s book and keeps the monsters off-screen until very precise moments. Only a CG bear and bloodthirsty fish turn up to ruin the steady mood.
The wintry cinematography, too, lends a frisson of gloom and spookiness with a plot context regarding extreme tourism cleverly employed and believable. Of course, the protagonists behave irrationally – it’s a horror film.
It might be deemed insensitive to take such a tragedy and weave a tale of terror around it. The mutants that attack the unsuspecting victims are given no character or sympathy. The costs of the disaster are felt to this day, so making a movie about freakish cannibals with melted faces and berserk Johnny Eck style offspring can be deemed bit crude.
Yet matters of taste are checked at the door when it comes to the horror genre. And factually, despite an exclusion zone set up by authorities, people still live in the city of Prypiat and roam the wastelands in the shadow of that now gigantic sarcophagus.
The feral Chernobylites when they do appear seem a greatest hits compilation of movie monsters. They stagger and feast like zombies and aesthetically akin to the creatures found in Neil Marshall’s The Descent yet also boast vampire-like traits.
American tourists visit a nuclear wasteland. What could possibly go wrong?
Atmospheric and tense throughout.
Doesn’t set out to reinvent the horror wheel but succeeds as solid genre entertainment.