— by JOEL CRARY —
“The Fourth Kind” is a curious bit of filmmaking from Olatunde Osunsanmi, who takes the recent found footage approach to horror and combines it into a rigamarole of a plot about alien abduction. The film stars Milla Jovovich, who plays herself as well as a woman named Dr. Abigail Tyler. Milla, not Abigail, introduces the film by explaining that what we’re watching is essentially a dramatization of events combined with actual recorded video and audio footage captured in Nome, Alaska back in October of 2000. It is also, apparently, “very disturbing.”
What unfolds is the story of Abigail, the real version of whom we are periodically shown in a sit-down interview with the director at a university two years after the events occurred. She is a psychologist who witnessed the violent murder of her husband and has taken his research work on as her own. The people of Nome all come to her with the same problem. They try to sleep at night, but are confronted by the haunting appearance of an owl at their windows. Abigail implements hypnosis to get at her clients’ subconscious minds and they react violently, pitching themselves around the room and reacting to voices in their heads.
An alien abduction theory begins to take hold of Abigail’s methods, especially after she is made privy to an audio recording of what happens in her bedroom after she falls asleep. This is all intercut with supposedly real footage (it’s not) of the actual cases. At points, the original events and reenactments are played simultaneously, separated from each other by shifting black bars, appropriately creating a hypnotic effect. In her footage, the real Abigail looks as white as a ghost, and we gradually come to find out why as she (Milla) attempts to get closer to the truth of what is actually going on.
For about the first 15 minutes, the structure is engaging, but the film’s biggest fault is its ceaseless efforts to beat its form and style over the head of the viewer. We are constantly reminded of the presence of the actual footage. Several scenes build tension but are consistently a letdown because the filmmakers are going for realism, which aggravatingly then gives way back to performance. The film falls into the trap of what ruins most alien abduction plots: We never quite see what’s going on, and what we do see makes us skeptical instead of terrified.
About the only thing the film has going for it is its cast, who would have been better off in a film that just played things straight. Will Patton is a gritty, disbelieving sheriff who knows everyone in Nome by heart. Hakeem Kae-Kazim is Professor Awolowa Odusami, an expert in Sumerian culture who has some answers about what the aliens, if they exist, are trying to communicate. The always reliable Elias Koteas is Abel, a sympathetic colleague of Abigail’s trying to ensure that she doesn’t go crazy. All of their characters have assumed names, see, because what happened was so disturbing. We know it’s disturbing, because the movie tells us so.
It’s difficult to imagine the kind of reception “The Fourth Kind” would have seen in a year that didn’t offer the “Paranormal Activity” warhorse. Though “The Fourth Kind’s” execution results in a complicated, unscary mess, its approach is ambitious. Osunsanmi has a good sense of atmosphere that is most dramatically felt in the soundtrack, but he pollutes things with ideas that begin as intriguing yet become repetitive and obvious. “The Fourth Kind” has the gall to tell us to our faces that we should make up our own minds about what we’ve just seen. Consider it done.
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Click here to see three scenes from “The Fourth Kind.”
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