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The Fourth Kind Is Too Busy Trying to Make This Seem Real

The Fourth Kind
Written and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi from a story by Osunsanmi and Terry Robbins
Universal, 2009

Right from the beginning, The Fourth Kind is absolutely doomed, tearing down its fourth wall and having actress Milla Jovovich come up to the camera and introduce herself, “Hi, I’m actress Milla Jovovich.”  She goes on to say that what we’re about to see is based on recordings that took place in 2000, and that whether we think it’s real or not is up to us, in the classic ploy of, “I’m not forcing you to believe this, I have nothing to gain from it, so therefore you probably should believe it.”

By addressing the believability factor, Olatunde Osunsanmi, the writer/director, achieves the opposite effect.  In fact, take a look at any number of reviews on this and you’ll see a whole bunch of comments on whether this is real or not, which shouldn’t be the focus.  A simple, “This film is based on true events.  Where possible, actual video footage will be shown,” then leave it at that.  It is now up to the viewer to decide, “Is this real?  I mean…seriously?”  That’s where fear becomes more palpable.  We saw this with Paranormal Activity just a few weeks ago, and we knew it wasn’t real, but it didn’t spend any time trying to make us think that.

In The Fourth Kind, Jovovich plays Abigail Tyler, a psychologist based in Nome, Alaska.  She is a single mother to a son who thinks she’s responsible for dad dying and a blind daughter.   Abby encounters several stories from different patients that are all the same: people waking up in the middle of the night, or dreaming, that they see owls watching them.  During hypnosis, which was dutifully recorded by the real Abigail Tyler, shown in video footage and in an ongoing interview with Osunsamni, the patients start to freak out a bit that maybe what they’ve been seeing hasn’t been owls at all, but something much worse.  When one of her patients, Tommy Fisher (Corey Johnson), freaks out and tells Abby…maybe next time he’ll discuss it, but not now, and then goes on to kill his family and himself, this attracts the attention of Sheriff August (Will Patton), who wonders what kind of ancient voodoo this psychology really is.

A tape recording of Abigail and an angry alien voice screaming something in the oldest known language of all, Sumerian, keeps her busy looking for answers.  She contacts a language expert, Awolowa Odusami (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) to help her translate, but he only knows a few words.  Abigail lost her husband awhile back, thinking he was stabbed in the middle of the night by alien forces.  Which begs the question, why isn’t she in jail?  The question does get answered, but for now, she thinks that what her patients are going through is the same thing her husband and possibly she is currently going through now.  Answers have to be around the corner, and with the help of a very skeptical colleague, Abel Campos (Elias Koteas), she starts questioning other patients about what they’ve seen, using hypnosis, leading to the first real jolts of the movie, and raising more ire from Sheriff August.

A great many of the scenes in the movie have accompanying video footage, all saying, “No really, what we’re showing here is no bullshit.  Just look at these tapes, man!”  When it gets to patients, hypnosis, and possible alien abduction, the tapes start scrambling and all the evidence, save for a couple of creepy moments, are basically unseen.  We know why this technique is used, to allow you to use your imagination a little more, but this is a situation where we could really use un-molested footage.  I mean, freaky things on a videotape have a way of seeming true, so our nonsense filter gets turned off, and it’s all the scarier.  Here, though, in the method of trying to make it “real,” we don’t get to see much, and it’s disappointing.  I’m sure Osunsamni would say, “But that’s the footage we were given!”  You know, to keep up appearances that this is real video footage and not something he himself shot.

Overall, this is a disappointing foray into sci-fi/horror.  It has something here, but like I said, all this “It’s real, make up your own mind, here’s real video footage that was unfortunately disturbed by the presence of alien life” stuff screws up everything.  You just can’t take it seriously, for one heartbeat, and that’s enough to cast it into eternal, crippling doubt.

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