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'Chernobyl Diaries' mines nuclear disaster for horror thrills

March 21, 2012 | 11:10 am


"Ever heard of Chernobyl?" an American tourist (Jonathan Sadowski) asks his friends in the new trailer for the upcoming horror movie "Chernobyl Diaries." "It's where the nook-yoo-ler disaster happened," answers a fellow traveler (Olivia Dudley).

Audiences will get a history lesson of sorts from "Chernobyl Diaries," a movie due in theaters May 25 that follows a group of young Americans in Europe on a jaunt to the abandoned Ukrainian site of the 1986 nuclear meltdown.

Co-written and produced by "Paranormal Activity" creator Oren Peli and directed by visual effects supervisor and first-time feature filmmaker Brad Parker, "Chernobyl Diaries" was inspired by the real phenomenon of "extreme tourism," according to Alcon Entertainment co-Chief Executive Andrew Kosove, whose company purchased the North American rights to the film based on the script in January.

In 2002, Ukraine opened the city of Prypiat, where about 50,000 workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant lived, to tour groups. Travelers on a day pass can visit the abandoned, rotting buildings -- the whole city was evacuated in just 40 minutes -- and see an eerie time capsule of 1980s Soviet life.

"It's not like going to Club Med in Barbados," Kosove said. "It's frozen in time, and it's visually arresting. The idea of a film set there sounded intriguing to me."

Early marketing for the film, which was shot in Serbia and Hungary, seems designed to stoke curiosity about the disaster. The trailer includes newsreel footage about the accident, and the film's Facebook page features a photo album with bleak pictures from Prypiat and invites audiences to "experience the fallout."

"Chernobyl Diaries" isn't the first pop culture property inspired by the world's worst nuclear accident. Last year's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" began with an alien robot mission to the disaster site, and in the "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." series of video games released starting in 2007, players attempt to survive Chernobyl's post-meltdown conditions and an eruption of mutant creatures.

The movie is the first to be fully financed by the independent production and international sales company FilmNation Entertainment, and will be released in the U.S. under Alcon's deal with Warner Bros. 

A spokeswoman for FilmNation said the company has sold rights to the film in the Commonwealth of Independent States -- the former Soviet Republics that were most directly affected by the accident -- but the distributor there has not yet set a release date.

Kosove, whose company also purchased the Japanese, Spanish and German rights to "Chernobyl Diaries," said he was not worried about the movie offending Chernobyl survivors, or those affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan last March.

"It's a popcorn film," Kosove said. "I don't think the movie takes itself so seriously as to tread on those real disasters." Check out the trailer below:


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Photo: Tourists come to the Chernobyl site in a van and get stranded there as night approaches in "Chernobyl Diaries." Credit: Warner Bros.