I love a good scary movie as much as the next person, but the newest bloody, gushy, bone-crackin’ zombie horror opening this weekend is one that I personally feel crosses the line on what we can indulge our fears in – because it’s based on a real modern disaster.
I know that a lot of readers on this site were either too young or not even thought of yet, but the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 was one of the worst catastrophes in modern history. It has killed thousands of people, caused over 300,000 citizens to relocate as the land was left uninhabitable and ultimately crippled the Soviet economy. Just to give you an idea, the accident released 400 times more radiation into the atmosphere than the bombing at Hiroshima and will take 20,000 years to be perfectly safe for human habitation again.
Now, shortly after the 26th year anniversary of the devastation, Hollywood decides that all of this is the perfect setting for our latest summer thriller!
Alright, guys, here’s the pitch! This movie’s got everything! Hot young people! Blood! Blood ON the hot young people! Zombies! Inaccurate science! We start off with six tourists – American, of course, because aren’t Americans just the coolest?! They decide to go to Chernobyl in what’s become a rising trend amongst young people with money to burn called “extreme tourism.” Extreme! Find some way to do product placement of every energy drink ever – we really gotta heighten the extreme factor, here! So, they hire a tour guide named, eh, what’s a common Russian name? Uri! Of course! Uri takes them to the city of Pripyat, where most of the workers lived during the nuclear disaster. He warns them of the dangers, but they came here for danger! America! Then they find themselves stranded in the ghost city and discover that they’re not alone. The radiation has created a bunch of flesh-hungry Ukrainian zombies and, turns out, they love the taste of Americans! Especially Jesse McCartney! Alright, can you have the final draft to me by 4 o’clock? I wouldn’t over-think it.
Let’s clear some things up here. We listen to music, read books, comics, magazines and watch television and movies because we enjoy both relating to them and using them for escapism. Entertainment is meant to ignite an emotion and take us out of our reality. This film is not escapism. This is based off of the reality that hundreds of thousands of people lived with, died from and are still affected by. But hey, it didn’t affect us as a nation, nor did we cause it, so no hard feelings, right? In fact, the only ways that most of us relate to this are by recollections of the news coverage. We don’t have any connection to the Chernobyl disaster, we can’t relate to the devastation itself, so it’s easier for us as the outsiders to separate ourselves from the situation. You don’t see a nuclear zombie flick based directly on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because that was a huge no-no on America’s behalf and we still feel super bad about that. Just because we had no involvement in what happened at Chernobyl, does that justify making a mockery of it?
And it is a mockery. I have nothing against horror movies based off of true stories. I’m really into ghosts and hauntings, and real accounts of paranormal activity have obviously inspired so many films, but have we really run out of scary movie premises and remakes that we have to start going after monumental real life catastrophes for inspiration? The Hills Have Eyes remake cites Chernobyl and Hiroshima as influences to the story, but it at least takes a general approach. The Chernobyl Diaries is upfront in its name and promotional ads that, hey, this movie’s about a really sad thing that actually happened and that’s sad and all, but wouldn’t it be crazy if that really sad thing called radiation exposure left people all gross and angry and dopey so they don’t know any better than to kill?
Besides the setting itself, what I find even more insensitive is how Hollywood so blatantly makes light of the radiation that has caused cancer and genetic mutations in people, animals and plant-life, and turns victims into blood-thirsty oafs. Imagine Europe making a movie about the ghosts of people killed on 9/11 haunting the new World Trade Center built in its place. Horrible, right? Insensitive, offensive and with no respect towards the victims who were impacted by the tragedy? Well, that’s exactly how I view Chernobyl Diaries.
This film does not appear to be an homage to the tragedy, but a historical fiction written negatively. It’s different than movies like Titanic or Schindler’s List – although they do portray fictionalized characters in horrible historical settings, and some can argue as making money off of someone else’s personal losses – because it manipulates the truth in a far more extreme way.
I know horror movies are always an extreme bending of the truth – that’s why we love them. It visualizes our worst fears and we soak it up because the rush is great. Don’t get me wrong, I love zombie movies. My only argument is here is that we can keep it in a more fictionalized scenario instead of a real life one that actually affected a whole country and hundreds of thousands of people. We’re capable of better creativity.