Protest demonstrations are the best thing that could happen to evoke interest in this dreadful thriller, making one wonder if the producers actually hired the picketers/petitioners claiming that an infamous nuclear catastrophe shouldn't be sensationalized.

The story begins in Kiev as six "extreme tourists" impulsively decide to forgo a trip to Moscow in order to visit the Ukrainian ghost city of Prypiat, which underwent a government-mandated evacuation shortly after the April, 1986, accident at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

"Ever heard of Chernobyl?" Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) asks his fellow travelers, including his brother, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his long-time girlfriend, Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and Natalie's best friend, Amanda (Devin Kelley), along with an Australian couple, Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Bernal). "It's where the nuclear disaster happened." But that was more than 25 years ago.

They're escorted into the eerily deserted, post-apocalyptic "Zone of Alienation" by tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), a burly, ex-Special Forces operative who assures them that there's no danger from radiation contamination. As they walk around during the day, peering into debris-strewn apartment complexes and speculating what it must have been like, all goes well. But as dusk approaches and they're ready to depart, their van won't start.

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In the ensuing darkness, they discover to their horror that, perhaps, dilapidated and supposedly uninhabitable Prypiat isn't so deserted after all. There's a deformed fish, a large bear, a pack of ravenous dogs and, worst of all, cannibalistic, radiation-mutated creatures are stalking them.

Co-written and produced by Oren Peli ("Paranormal Activity") and directed by visual effects supervisor/first-time feature filmmaker Bradley Parker, it takes formulaic plotting, shaky camerawork, cliched dialogue and repetitive film-making to a new low, although the location choice of Serbia and Hungary lends credible atmosphere. Even the title is misleading, since there's no `found footage,' like "The Blair Witch Project."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Chernobyl Diaries" is a dismally contrived 2. It becomes rapidly obvious why it was not screened for critics before it was released on the unsuspecting public.