So Oren Peli, the guy who created the no-frills, seemingly effortless horror hit “Paranormal Activity,” is back as the writer of the “Chernobyl Diaries” - set in Pripyat, Ukraine. Should I be getting all huffy and offended here?
As you can see from the trailer - the film appears to follow a familiar formula: a group of attractive Americans is enjoying Europe, when they decide to venture into the horrific wasteland known as Eastern Europe. Except instead of being tortured a la Eli Roth’s “Hostel,” they’re being chased around by possibly irradiated weirdos.
I did hear about “Chernobyl Diaries” a while ago - and then safely forgot all about it. I’m busy writing my own stories of wastelands - and I hadn’t been that impressed with “Paranormal Activity,” truth be told. It was certainly scary at times, and the found footage gimmick, popularized way back in the day by “The Blair Witch Project” was put to good use here, with sleeker equipment somehow appropriately capturing the blandness of middle-to-upper-class American marriage and then mashing that up with ZOMG DEMONS. But I didn’t really believe in the characters, found the actors unconvincing, and ultimately couldn’t give a hoot when it all ended the way such movies usually end - with off-screen violence. The horror geek in me remained stubbornly displeased
But then the other day I was contacted by an acquaintance who asked me if I was offended by the fact that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which cost many lives and continues to slowly destroy the lives of others, was being turned into a thrilling escapade for young American audiences.
I was born in Ukraine, and know too many Chernobyl victims, more than I normally care to admit. A friend of my family has become disabled due to being exposed to radiation there, after she was ordered to rush in to treat people, having been a young, Kiev-based doctor at the time - just to give one example. Something tells me she won’t be interested in going to see this particular film.
And yet a certain demystification process around Chernobyl really ought to take place. We had a government cover-up around it. And then we have had a lot of debate about its actual toll on people and the planet. And then a lot of debate surrounding how to keep living with Chernobyl - and with nuclear energy in general.
One of the biggest lessons of Chernobyl has been that life adapts. It finds a way. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be actual radiation-consuming mushrooms growing on the reactor itself. This may be no consolation for us humans, who are so hell-bent on destroying ourselves, but it could be consolation for the planet as a whole.
And because the Chernobyl disaster was an event of international significance, a cheesy-looking thriller is just one more sign of society moving on.
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