Standard young movie people head out on a travel montage through the great cities of Europe, like London, Paris and Kiev. It's in the Ukraine. Whichever movie character was the edgy one talks the rest into a tour of the deserted city of Pripyat, in the very shadow of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Now what do you reckon they'll find out there? Hint: radiation causes mutations.

I should mention that the cameras are securely mounted to tripods even though it kind of has that handheld movie feel to it. They do sneak in a bit of found footage though, 'cause we're just that addicted to shakycam.

hey cool
Chernobyl is beautiful
but YUCK
People running around yelling each other's names

This movie was roundly denounced by the critics, and rightfully so I reckon, but they're regular employed car-owning people who don't even live in a funny little house they built themselves or have a morbid fascination with abandoned radioactive wastelands. I however do, so I liked it in spite of itself. I would go to Chernobyl like a shot and wander around until my hair and teeth fell out if I didn't have to feed my cats.

The exclusion zone of Chernobyl is one of the world's truly fantastic places, and I mean that in the proper sense of the word. The failed reactor is surrounded by hundreds of square miles of ghost cities, roads to nowhere, and overgrown orchards growing toxic fruit. It's as if Lovecraft's colour out of space has descended over the land, but it's a true story. This is a real place you can go and there's a real monster there; it's reactor number four, and it can still kill you.

The most surreal aspect of the place is that people didn't just evacuate, they basically fled. It's a freeze frame of the last day on Earth; books are still on the shelves, plates on the dinner table, and from the video I've seen it appears every little girl in the city immediately dropped her doll so you can't take three steps without one's sad, broken face looking up at you. I imagine the absence of humans must be more palpably felt there amid the crumbling buildings and contaminated objects than at the very bottom of Antarctica. Gives me the chills.

You don't even have to make a horror movie about it. Check out the documentaries on YouTube; it's one of the most interesting stories of the 20th century, and it's not over by a long shot. In fact I'm going to serve up the ol' external links for y'all today. There's a fascinating piece on PBS called Radioactive Wolves you can watch online. And for photos, this activist chick claims to have ridden through the whole zone alone on a motorcycle and took pictures. Others say she's lying and just took the tour like everybody else, or is perhaps operating with fewer than 23 control rods inserted, if you get my drift. I tend to believe it's a well-meaning hoax, but still a cool site.

Anyway we've got a movie to talk about here I reckon. Unfortunately faulty design and operator error prevent it from being the experience it could have been. If you've ever seen a motion picture or TV show you've already met our characters, who's appearance and dialogue bond effectively to form a lightweight polymer suitable for use as modern movie filler. I couldn't pick any of them out of a police lineup except for big guy doing Soviet accent, but they're tolerable I guess, especially once they stop having conversations and start running in headlong panic from everything. This brand even has forced family drama between the two brothers. I think one of them had unresolved issues with their dead dad, and compensates by being kind of a jackass. I don't recall how that worked out but I'm sure he learned some important life lessons during the adventure. Unless he died.

The presence of empty calorie characters and all the dull chasing around at the end makes the movie feel formulaic even though parts of it are reasonably well done. I didn't see that bear coming and there's a nice misdirection shot later. I thought the dogs were more threatening than the...look you knew full well there'd be mutant zombies in any movie involving radiation so don't even say spoiler. They actually seemed kind of superfluous to me though; the animals were already doing a fine job making people bolt for the car.

I even kind of think they made the wrong movie about this. Maybe that's too strong a word; I can't say a movie is incorrect for having mutants in an area that does in fact have actual mutants, but again this is a real wasteland where a real horror movie happened, and while I'm not saying a political point about that has to be made, I think there was an opportunity here for something other than just people running from stuff and yelling. I'd like to have seen focus on the eerie, desolate vibe, like trippy Carnival of Souls business happening out there.

They didn't actually film in Pripyat sadly, as I guess the filmmakers weren't committed enough to suck down a few rads for their art, but they do a pretty good job faking it. They shot in Croatia and Hungary, where I'm sure there's no shortage of ugly, run down communist buildings. It looks like the pictures I've seen of the real place, and that's why I basically like the movie despite all the griping I just did. Hell I'd watch 90 minutes of camera-phone vacation footage of Chernobyl and be interested.