Vacation Meltdown: “Chernobyl Diaries!”

Not long ago, I watched an interesting documentary on public television called “Radioactive Wolves” which dealt with Chernobyl – site of the infamous Russian nuclear reactor meltdown that occurred over 25 years ago. Contrary to what you may think, its apparently become something of a paradise, as nature has reclaimed the territory; seeing the return of wolves, bears, bison, and even wild horse. Thanks to the help of a team of eager beavers, much of man’s irrigation has been undone and large portions of the territory have become lush swampland (which they’d been prior to human tampering) once more. Before you start booking your next eco-tourist vacation, however, I should mention that there’s a slight catch…its still radioactive.

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This doesn’t stop of group of young travelers in Hollywood’S latest film, CHERNOBYL DIARIES, who aren’t interested in its wildlife (though they’ll unwittingly get a taste of it) as they are in partaking in an “Extreme Tour.”  This is a term used for would be thrill-seekers who’d rather check out more infamous travel spots. While I never got a chance to see any of the shop’s brochures, I imagine some of “Extreme” trips offered may include a luxurious stay in North Korea, a safari ride in DAR 4, and a “Call of Duty” paintball fight in Saudi Arabia. Visiting the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters proves too tempting for one of the guys in the troop, as well as his photographer gal pal who can’t think of a better way to get unique shots for her Russian scrapbook. They convince their friends to forgo their planned visit to Moscow in favor of this locale.

While Chernobyl may be unfit for human habitation, tour guide “Uri” assures his clients that it’s safe enough for a day trip. Hopping on board his make-shift “Mystery Machine” (that looks as if its being held together by spit and gum), they disregard warnings that they aren’t permitted to enter by taking a covert short cut. After getting a glimpse of the city of Pripyat, where the workers of Chernobyl had lived and were forced to immediately evacuate, the group gets jolted by one of the aforementioned animals and decides to call it a day. Unfortunately, they discover that their vehicle has been tampered with and they are stuck in this eerie ghost town with nobody having a clue that they are even there.

Soon nightfall hits and things take an even more sinister turn. Throughout the film, you are never quite sure if their enemy is natural, supernatural, or perhaps something entirely different. When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I worried it was going to be yet another entry in the POV style of film-making that worked with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY before winding its way down to the crappy DEVIL INSIDE (that one was recently released on DVD and, if you’re thinking of renting it, I urge you to read my review HERE first). I am happy to say that this is not a POV film, though much of the filming certainly gives it the feel of one.

Although I liked the overall premise (which immediately took me in when I saw the trailer a month ago) I was less impressed with the directing. By the film’s second half, I wasn’t quite sure where this movie was going and my mind started wandering. The acting is decent but, while Chernobyl may be great for a gritty photography exhibition, its far from ideal in terms of big screen cinematography. That being said, you can safely wait and see this one on home video.

One thing I was pleased to see while attending this movie was a preview of the upcoming ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER dealing with America’s most famous President battling the undead in a prelude The Civil War. Now there’s an eco-tourist location you can sink your teeth in!

Dave Fuentes~

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