We drove up the winding path towards a twenty foot tall, secure fence. Within the boundaries of the fence stood three large structures, clad in red brick. We equipped flash lights - even though it was daylight - and began circling the property. We had been told that there were openings; small cutaways big enough to crawl through, and what we got were even larger. It was trespassing, to a degree: there were no signs. The legality is grey, but we needed to explore. Hearts were pounding, as we looked in all directions for anyone who may be watching. We entered the grounds, and found another entrance into the first building. It was full of machinery, tools, parts and debris. Birds made nests in the larger areas, and it was evident that nature had been slowly reclaiming this abandoned facility for nearly ten years. This was urban exploration.
It could be considered one of the holy grails of urban exploration: Prypyiat. An entire city that once housed fifty thousand people, evacuated within a day or two. Entire apartment buildings abandoned and family possessions left behind. There is one catch: there is radiation. And there could be even more for those brave enough to adventure in. That's the premise of Chernobyl Diaries, at least. A group of young adults are looking for adventure in their European trip, and are convinced to take a tour of Prypiat, with the cooling towards of Chernobyl in the distance. Like anyone, they're hesitant, but like anyone, they find it extremely interesting. The history of it is fascinating and well worth investigating. The movie is interesting too, although it stops being so near the end.
It's a short movie and it doesn't waste much time in getting going. We're treated to a standard montage of our characters, then their decision to make the journey. Our group is led to checkpoints, where they are denied access - a strange occurence, but our tour guide knows another way in. Aside from the impending radiation, it's out first sign of danger. We're treated to glory shots of Prypiat and it's abandoned treasures, including the famous ferris wheel. We're also treated to a high level of tension as you, the audience, knows that something is not right. After all, it's why you're watching this movie. Although honestly, I would sit through a multiple hour documentary about the city and the Chernobyl disaster itself. The previews led me to believe that there was something supernatural happening, and I wasn't eager to try and presume what the horror would be.
You may be under the impression that this is a "lost footage" film, but it's not, much to my pleasure. The camera is a character, certainly, but is not at the same time. It's hand held footage the entire time, following and running with the others, but it's never addressed directly. I'm glad they went this route: it would feel tired and clichéd if they didn't.
The end result was a bit disappointing though. The movie closes in a way that I don't approve of, and I look forward to alternate endings (this is coming from the director of Paranormal Activity, after all, so it should be inevitable). We never really get a solid glimpse at the creatures, which is great, but we do get an explanation, in what feels like a tacked on and half-hearted attempt at putting an end on a movie that doesn't really need one. I very much got a sense of I Am Legend here (the latest Will Smith version). I half expected the monsters to be radioactive vampires.But they aren't. In fact, it's inconsistent: these monsters are able to flip a care and are intelligent enough to cut appropriate cabling, but exist in such numbers that what we're told doesn't entirely line up with what we've just seen.
As a fan of urban exploration it was impossible to pass a movie like this up. There are real tours that go into the city, and I have an appreciation for how ill-prepared these people were for their journey. When you're familiar with some of the rules and guidelines for exploration, it's no wonder that this group runs into such disaster. Just as you walk away from 127 Hours with the message that you should always tell somebody where you're going, you should walk away from Chernobyl Diaries with the message to do the same thing, and to at least bring flash lights on a tour of dark, abandoned buildings.