DVD Review: The Fourth Kind
In my mind, what usually separates a good supernatural film from a bad one goes back to the age-old theory of less is more. As in, the less demon/alien/monster we actually see onscreen, the more we believe in the possibility that it actually exists. After all, nothing that a Hollywood director or computer can whip up using CGI effects is ever as scary as the unknown is within our own imagination, so seeing a director’s manifestation of whatever’s supposed to scare us is usually a let-down.
I liked last year’s Paranormal Activity for this reason – we were engaged by what we couldn’t see – and that film compares to The Fourth Kind in that it also relies on so-called “actual footage” found after the fact to tell a story. I do give The Fourth Kind director Olantunde Osunsanmi credit for showing that same type of restraint in terms of not revealing too much of the aliens onscreen, as it prevents us from having any Cloverfield or Signs moments where seeing the monster or alien makes us want to run from the theater screaming – because we’re horrified that that was the best they could come up with.
But unfortunately that’s where the movie’s self-restraint ends, and the less is more approach is abandoned in favor of over-the-top acting and forceful reminders that what we’re seeing is based on either actual footage, or reenactments of the actual footage. Except that it’s not actual footage; that much becomes clear almost right away (following on the success of other reality-style films, it becomes a challenge to dupe the audience with that tactic these days). But it doesn’t stop Osunsanmi from trying too hard to convince us otherwise; in fact, Milla Jojovich (A Perfect Getaway) does her best Robert Stack impression and even addresses the camera as herself before the move starts, in order to very solemnly state that some of the events and dramatizations we were about to witness are very disturbing, and that it is up to us to decide what we believe to be the truth. Jojovich tells us she will be portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler, a recently widowed psychologist who starts to suspect the possibility of alien abduction when many of her patients start complaining of waking each night around 3 am and being haunted by visions of owls outside their window. The film’s setting is Nome, Alaska, where many unsolved disappearances have prompted 2000 visits by the FBI since the 1960s.
The story unfolds through a series of interviews with Dr. Tyler and in her patients’ therapy sessions, where the eventual decision to hypnotize the patients in order to help them recall what happened to them after seeing the owl leads to frightening – and sometimes fatal – results. Sheriff August, played by Will Patton (24), plays foe to Jojovich’s Tyler; while he is sympathetic to the fact that she is having trouble dealing with her own husband’s death, he simply won’t accept the possibility that aliens are responsible for the havoc he believes Tyler is wreaking through hypnosis of her patients. Tyler’s own psychologist, Dr. Abel (Elias Koteas, The Haunting in Connecticut) tries to provide her with rational explanations for the events surrounding her, but then he, too, bears witness to the inexplicable and tries to convince the Sheriff that Tyler is not responsible for what is happening in Nome, Alaska.
While The Fourth Kind does offer an interesting theory for the Nome disappearances, where it falls apart is in the execution. As previously stated, the acting is over-the-top, and unfortunately that applies to the so-called “real” people as well, so our belief that this is real is quickly suspended. The real Abigail Tyler comes across as too rehearsed to be convincing; there are also some supposed real moments that could never legally be shown if they were actual events. And of course this would all be okay if the material was presented as a narrative, because it is an interesting subject, but trying to juxtapose terrible acting with terrible re-enacting does not make for a very enjoyable – or scary – movie.
Admittedly, my own fascination with seeing this movie stems from my own experience as a young child, when I would often complain to my mom about the white owl who sat on my bedpost watching me at night. At the time, she brushed me off and told me I was dreaming, but much later, my mom admitted she had been terrified when I had told her this, because she had read somewhere that people who were abducted by aliens often complained of seeing owls beforehand. It was the large eyes that throws people off, she said, making them believe they are seeing owls, when really it is aliens. Whether or not I was experiencing a close encounter of the fourth kind, or I had just watched Labyrinth too many times for my own good, I’m not sure, but I find the possibility of abduction to be fascinating nevertheless. Some brief research lead me to articles like this one, which offers the FBI’s theory regarding the multiple Nome disappearances, attributing the deaths to alcohol and cold weather. I’m not entirely convinced by that explanation either, so for now, I’ll have to do some more digging and come up with my own theories. If nothing else, at least I can always turn to the never-disappointing source, Yahoo! Answers , for a more entertaining turn on the topic than The Fourth Kind provides.