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Landing closely on the sleeper heels of “Paranormal Activity” comes “The Fourth Kind,” an alien-abduction thriller that combines purported raw case-study footage with dramatic “re-creations” to unsuccessful effect.
Although writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi puts a lot of work into the film’s “is it or isn’t it” (as in a hoax) conceit, the gimmick proves more distracting than disturbing. Multiple split-screens shared by supposed real-life victims and actors playing them ultimately serve to distance viewers from the mythology instead of drawing them inward.
Whether the film’s question of authenticity is enough to draw decent opening-weekend audiences will depend on the effectiveness of Universal’s viral marketing campaign, but it’s likely the theatrical encounter will be brief.
Taking its title from ufologist J. Allen Hynek’s classification of extraterrestrial sightings, with the fourth kind referring to a hands-on abduction, the picture is set in Nome, Alaska, where psychologist Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) hears a number of her traumatized patients describing chillingly similar nocturnal experiences.
They all begin with the appearance of a strange white owl at their window, but through subsequent hypnosis recorded by Dr. Tyler’s trusty video camera, they each become victims of a violent encounter with a nasty-sounding, Sumarian-speaking entity.
That “Fourth Kind” is actually not as dismissively silly as the above sounds is because of all that backup documentation that Osunsanmi assembles, including an archival interview he does with a woman identified as the real Dr. Tyler shot at Southern California’s Chapman University.
Although Osunsanmi and producer Terry Lee Robbins, who shares story credit, are both Chapman alumni, the closest you’ll come to an interview with an Abigail Tyler on the university’s Web site is one with Abigail Van Buren, aka Dear Abby.
The fact that the film already is driving folks to the Internet means it accomplishes its goal to some degree, but it would have been far more potent without that simultaneous dramatization supplied by Jovovich, Elias Koteas as a sympathetic colleague and Will Patton as a dubious law enforcer.
Adding to that artifice is an insistent orchestral score by Atli Orvarsson that constantly feels at odds with the production’s desire to be taken as the real deal.
Opens: Friday, November 6 (Universal)
Production companies: Gold Circle Films, Chambara Pictures, Dead Crow Pictures
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas
Director-screenwriter: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Executive producers: Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt, Ioana Miller
Producers: Paul Brooks, Joe Carnahan, Terry Lee Robbins
Director of photography: Lorenzo Senatore
Production designer: Carlos Da Silva
Music: Atli Orvarsson
Costume Designer: Johnetta Boone
Editor: Paul J. Covington
Rating: PG-13, 98 minutes
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