We're used to seeing apocalyptic wastelands in our video games, television shows and big screen movies. But such an environment actually exists in the real world, and its vacant landscape can be found near the border of Ukraine. It's Chernobyl, the ominous location of the most significant nuclear power plant disaster in history. Chernobyl: The Exclusion Zone takes cameras inside this infamous site to determine whether the reality lives up to our collective nightmares.
The ruins of Chernobyl have been abandoned and radioactive for over 30 years, but evidence of its former vitality can be found in every direction. There's the summer camp adorned with a smiling Mickey Mouse on its exterior walls. A child's doll stares hollow-eyed in the hallway of an elementary school. Faded newspapers lie scattered on creaky floorboards and extol headlines from a distant time. A rusty Ferris wheel recalls an era of innocence and frivolity that was cut far too short.
The documentary offers a tour through Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone, a large region where radioactive fallout is most prominent. Geiger counters help the crew detect the most dangerous pockets of radiation along their path. Many of the sights are strangely beautiful and captivating, but an unsettling sense of doom nevertheless permeates their travels.
The area is not a tourist trap by any means, but it does play host to a fair amount of researchers, scientists and other like-minded professionals. Perhaps the most surprising element of the film is its portrayal of the civilization that has managed to sustain itself within this inhospitable environment. There's even a hotel that offers cozy beds, delicious meals, hot showers and robust Wi-Fi service.
Above all, Chernobyl exudes a feeling of profound loss and devastation. It's sacred ground. This is never more apparent than when the film follows former residents as they gather for an annual visit to the area. Mournful and emotionally wounded, they peer out into the wasteland of overgrown vegetation and dilapidated infrastructure that they once called home.
Chernobyl: The Exclusion Zone is a simple, but harrowing portrait of one of the world's most haunting sites.