Starring: Jesse McCartney, John Sadowski, Devin Kelly, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Nathan Phillips, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Dimitri Diatchenko
I must admit that when I first heard the title of this film I assumed that it was a documentary piece about the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster on the residents of the region. When I subsequently discovered it was actually a horror film from Oren Peli, the man behind Paranormal Activity, my reaction was that this is in very bad taste given the history of the area.
It turns out that this reaction was right. It may have been co-written by Dick Van Dyke’s grandson Shane but this is definitely no spoonful of sugar. The plot revolves around a group of friends, Chris (McCartney) Natalie (Dudley) and Amanda (Kelley), who are travelling around Europe. They stop off in Kyiv in Ukraine to visit Chris’s brother Paul (Sadowski) who lives there. When Paul suggests they go on an “extreme tour” of the site of the nuclear disaster while they are in the city they are all up for it and the next day they join their guide Uri (Diatchenko) and two other tourists Zoe (Berdal) and Michael (Phillips) for the excursion.
Initially denied access to the area by the military Uri reveals that he knows a covert way in and takes them through an old unmanned check point in a forested area. The first couple of hours are uneventful as the group explore the abandoned former homes and living environments of the Chernobyl workers and their families with the biggest excitement coming when a bear runs out of one of the buildings.
However, when they prepare to depart they discover that the wires in Uri’s van have been chewed through. They radio for help to no avail and are forced to spend the night there but it quickly becomes apparent that they are not alone when noises are heard outside the van. As Uri and Chris head out with a flashlight to investigate, only one of them returns and the group are forced to take their chances with their unseen predators as they try to escape the area, which it turns out is swarming with mutants created by the disaster, who have escaped from a nearby hospital.
Although this (thankfully) isn’t a “found footage” film, director Parker still sticks very much to that style with wobbly hand held cameras and some “grainy” scenes. Unfortunately all this achieves is to make the movie look incredibly cheap. While it may be low budget it doesn’t have to look it. He also overuses the tried and tested “things that go bump in the night” formula, which like most moviemaking tricks works best in small doses. When you do see the mutants it is literally for fleeting seconds and in poor light but they still look like the make-up came from a joke shop.
There is nothing here we haven’t seen before, and better, in films such as The Hills Have Eyes and you can see the ending coming a mile away. The setting doesn’t help, given that the original tragedy is still so fresh in many people’s minds and I couldn’t help feel that Parker was deliberately exploiting it for his own ends. Also, none of the characters are that likeable or well developed. They are mainly very self obsessed and arrogant with an air of entitlement. This means that as they start getting knocked off one by one you don’t really care that much. One thing a film like this desperately needs is audience sympathy for the protagonists or it has nothing going for it and this film sorely fails in that respect.
Ultimately, other than the macabre tasteless setting, there is nothing new here and even a different setting wouldn’t eliminate the formulaic feel that dominates this movie. As a horror film it’s not really that scary so fans of the genre will be sorely disappointed and this feels more like something that was commissioned for the Syfy channel that than the big screen.