This is a (mostly) spoiler-free review of HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries, which premieres on Monday, May 6.
If there was ever a show that should not be binged in a single sitting, it’s HBO’s Chernobyl — a five-part limited series that chronicles the tragic events during and after the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. It’s a harrowing and stomach-churning tale of bureaucratic negligence, ego, paranoia, and bravery set against the backdrop of the Cold War. It’s one of the most horrific scripted series out there… And it’s bloody brilliant.
Chernobyl may lack the supernatural element found in other terror-inducing series like Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and Hulu’s Castle Rock, yet it’s still utterly terrifying – precisely because it really happened. The limited series doesn’t need ghosts or ghouls to frighten you. Instead, Chernobyl uses its most powerful tool… The truth. Or as close as we’re going to get from what writer, creator, and executive producer Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part 2) has painstakingly researched in order to tell his story.
The horror in Chernobyl is expertly captured by director Johan Renck (Breaking Bad), as he takes the viewer on a nightmarish journey filled with death, fear, and confusion. In the series premiere, titled “1:23:45,” Renck keeps the panic intimate – never showing you more than a few characters inside the plant at a time. The explosion takes place late at night, so the facility isn’t fully staffed and most of the supervising heads of department are at their respective homes. And even though you don’t get to know all of the characters very well, every death feels deeply personal.
HBO’s Chernobyl is a brilliant and emotionally draining dive into a horrific event. Stellan Skarsgård, Jared Harris, and Emily Watson give memorable performances that are amplified by Johan Renck’s skillful direction and Craig Mazin’s sharp writing. While the horrors of Chernobyl might be difficult to stomach, the narrative journey is worth sticking around for… Even if it causes you to squirm from time to time.
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