You have to admit that it’s a pretty creepy setting. Chernobyl Diaries is set in the town of Pripyat, in the Ukraine. Back in the waning days of the Soviet Union, Pripyat was the location of the world’s most infamous nuclear plant disaster. Since then, the site has become famous as a ghost town, virtually untouched except by whatever nature chooses to visit upon it. The author of the film’s screenplay, Oren Peli, recalls his moment of inspiration for a horror story based in this notorious locale. “The idea came to me when I saw a photo blog posted by a girl traveling through Pripyat on a motorcycle,” Peli recalls. “That was the first time I’d heard about Pripyat, and that it had been evacuated overnight, then left as-is. … I thought the place looked eerie and beautiful and captivating, and a little sad — and that it could be the perfect setting for a very creepy movie.”
The story centers on six travelers who hire an “extreme tour” guide who takes them into the deserted city where the former workers of the Chernobyl reactor once lived. Once there, they discover that they’re not alone.
It’s an actual industry of sorts, taking people into Pripyat for a creepy look around. “You have to go with an organized tour,” Peli explains. “They drive you there; you get out and walk around for a couple of hours. The guide knows the safer areas and the restricted areas, and has a Geiger counter to make sure no one veers into a spot with high levels of radiation. … It’s for people who don’t want to just go to museums or look at the countryside from a seat on a bus. They want thrills; they want to risk their lives doing crazy things that 99 percent of the population would be very happy to never do.”
But it was through probing further into the Pripyat mythology that Peli found his premise for the film. “My research uncovered rumors that a few people had refused to leave, and had stayed behind despite the risks from the high radiation,” Peli explains. “So that thought, along with evidence of wildlife that roamed freely without human interference, made me wonder just what could happen during an ‘extreme’ tour of Pripyat.”
Photo: © 2012 Oxford Tours, LLC. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.