The Chernobyl VR Project is, as the name implies, a filmic experience that you strap onto your face. But that is not a particularly good description of its actual function: not all mixed-medium 360-degree videos want to be films. In fact, Chernobyl VR Project is not so much a film as it is a museum.
When you consider the current radiation levels around Pripyat, Ukraine, VR isn’t a bad choice for a museum. You may want to see what’s there, but you don’t really want to go there. And nor should you. That’s the point, really. The Chernobyl VR Project can’t exactly put you in the abandoned buildings surrounding the reactor, but it can give you a sense of the place. The trailer shows archival footage projected onto the walls of deserted rooms. Those rooms, it should be noted, have been recreated through careful 3D scanning. The whole thing is not a taught film per se, but it’s a good archival installation, the kind of thing you might visit if it weren’t far away and contaminated.
Polish developers The Farm 51 have achieved something unusual with the Chernobyl VR Project: they have created a work about tragedy and human suffering that isn’t simply disaster porn. Unlike all the drone footage of Chernobyl or the execrable A Good Day to Die Hard (Have the former residents of Pripyat not suffered enough? Do they really need a movie with Jai Courtney?), the location is not simply a fetishized object or an attempt to cash in on its history. There is a story to be told here, a story that cannot easily be told through other means. The Chernobyl VR Project continues the medium of virtual reality’s disproportionate fascination with the macabre, but at least it achieves some sensitivity through its use of technology. This is a model others would do well to heed.