[Screen It]

(2009) (Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas) (PG-13)

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Horror/Sci-fi: While attempting to help her patients strangely suffering from coincidental sleep issues and frightening dreams, a psychologist begins to believe both they and she are dealing with something of a far greater and more dangerous magnitude.
It's 2002 and Abigail Tyler is being interviewed for a Chapman University program by Olatunde Osunsanmi (OLATUNDE OSUNSANMI) regarding her reported odd occurrences from two years earlier in Nome, Alaska. We then see footage supposedly recorded from that time, as well as dramatic recreations of the events where actors play the parts of the real people.

Two months after her husband's death, Abigail (MILLA JOVOVICH) is still coping with that loss and its effect both on her and her kids, Ronnie and his younger sister, Ashley (MIA McKENNA-BRUCE). As a working psychologist, she also continues seeing her clients, some of whom -- such as Scott (ENZO CILENTI) and Tommy (COREY JOHNSON) -- have reported similarly troubling occurrences at night. Under hypnosis, they report being awakened by sounds in the middle of the night, as well as an odd owl that simply stares at them.

As Abigail continues digging deeper for answers, she realizes not only that the owl is something else entirely, but that she's also been visited by this being, and it's only through hypnosis with her shrink, Dr. Abel Campos (ELIAS KOTEAS), that everything starts coming together.

But when a tape recording of her includes a language no one can recognize, Abigail contacts Dr. Awolowa Odusami (HAKEEM KAE-KAZIM), a specialist in ancient tongues. What he then reports, as well as her patients progressively loosing it -- including with deadly results that soon have Sheriff August (WILL PATTON) involved -- eventually cause Abigail and the others to realize they're dealing with something far bigger than any of them could have imagined.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Now that it's been more than three decades, I don't recall the exact catalytic event that inspired such fears (although I'm guessing it was the extraordinary tale of and claims by Betty and Barney Hill), but I clearly remember being afraid of alien abductions as a young kid.

I'm not referring to illegal aliens coming across the U.S. border and kidnapping people. Instead, it involved the kind who arrived via UFOs, performed painful medical experiments on their human subjects, and then left them in a state of amnesia regarding said event (although, conveniently enough for the abductee storyteller, that was never perfect, leaving some memories to seep up to the surface).

All of that for yours truly occurred before the release of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," so I know that wasn't the pivotal fear inducer. Yet, Steven Spielberg certainly upped the ante in terms of alien invasion frights with that 1977 film that still holds up remarkably well today.

The scares are also present in "The Fourth Kind," although the overall film isn't in the same cinematic galaxy as the far better, space invaders themed predecessor. As the title suggests, the pic -- directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi from his own screenplay but apparently without a tripod, crane or other image stabilizing device -- goes to the next level of the Close Encounters order, that being abduction (the '77 film did that as well, but apparently figured "contact" included kidnappings).

It's also another of these reality pics that pretends some of its footage is the real deal, a tactic that's supposed to make the overall offering even scarier since, you know, it really happened. Unfortunately, this flick takes that to the umpteenth degree not only by the usual onscreen title telling us so, but also by having lead actress Milla Jovovich walk up to the screen, out of character, and directly address the viewer with the "this is real" introduction.

She also informs us that she'll be playing the main character in the movie, an odd directorial gambit in that we often see the "original" footage alongside the dramatized/recreated version in true split screen fashion. That isn't present non-stop throughout the film, but it does occur quite often, sometimes coupled with flashbacks of something being referenced, thus resulting in the screen being divided up even more.

It's an interesting storytelling tactic in theory, but it ultimately doesn't do anything for the overall experience as it not only takes one out of any particular moment when it occurs, but also serves as a nagging irritant with its constant and blatant "this is real" ruse.

All of which is too bad since the pic has some undeniably creepy moments, particularly when various characters -- sorry, real people -- as well as those portraying them after the fact undergo hypnosis. While under the "you're getting sleepy" trance, they then go all Regan MacNeil on us and end up channeling some freaky voices not to mention exercising some cool levitation abilities.

With the video recording footage of said events then going haywire, that only adds to the spooky aura as our imagination -- fueled by the audio as well as some alien language transcript tidbits -- fills in the blanks and thus makes the material seem even creepier. That will be especially true as long as one plays along with the overall conceit, which might be difficult for some/many viewers who might not buy into any of this, even for the "fun" of it.

Jovovich is okay as the troubled protagonist (although she doesn't have the acting depth to make it stand out), but is upstaged by the uncredited woman playing the "real" shrink who's far more effective than her doppelganger. Elias Koteas does his usual thing, and those playing supporting and minor roles are generally okay. But it's Will Patton as the local sheriff who apparently sets his sights on winning this year's Razzie for worst acting and seemingly has a lock on just that.

Had Osunsanmi stuck with just unknowns in every part, the film would have been so much better, not to mention cheaper to produce (just look at the recently released "Paranormal Activity," a viral phenomenon whose coattails this flick clearly wants to catch a ride on). Then again, why would you believe generic actress number one if she claimed everything we're about to see is based on actual events when we have the far more credible Ms. Jovovich (since, you know, she was the lead in those "Resident Evil" flicks)?

With all of the back and forth split screens and such, the film's impact is severely lessened, especially with the constant and constantly irritating "this is real" reminders (which might have worked in a pre-Internet age when investigating and corroborating claims was far more difficult). Containing a few decent scares but otherwise suffering from its distracting format, "The Fourth Kind" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 22, 2009 / Posted November 6, 2009

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