Sci-fi films have a long history of dealing with the themes of alien abduction and invasion. Ranging widely in quality, some are silly (Men in Black and The Arrival) or have been offered up for television (the James Earl Jones-starring The UFO Incident, Spielberg’s Taken, the controversial Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction, the X-Files, along with both the original and current V miniseries).
Many are done very dramatically and serve their purpose well: Signs, the Alien series, War of the Worlds, E.T., and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Some are done in a more matter of fact way such as Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Fire in the Sky, where stuff happens and it’s up to you to decide if it’s believable based on your suspension of disbelief.
When a filmmaker wants to present you with “facts” and is trying to make a case study, he or she had better come up with a great way to present these or risk polarizing the audience. While director Olatunde Osunsanmi has come up with a brilliant idea for his use of piecing together "real" footage he completely undermines any kind of effect by having the “live” events unfold with a split screen of dramatization at the exact same time.
Show me something purportedly real happening on screen and there’s a good chance I can buy it. Even if I know it’s fake or have an assumption, at least let me take in the footage and make up my own mind. Don’t begin your film with a disclaimer that what I am about to see is real when you don’t have the guts to allow the footage to stake its own claim on the viewer's subconscious.
In Osunsanmi’s new alien abduction thriller, The Fourth Kind, we are immediately introduced to the star of the film, actress Milla Jovovich. She announces that while the footage is real she will be playing the part of Dr. Abbey Tyler in the re-enactment sequences. Considering how atrocious Jovovich’s acting has been in the past and how much the real Dr. Tyler looks like Julianne Moore, this is a major misstep of casting and calls immediate attention to itself within the first five minutes.
Dr. Tyler is a psychologist in Nome, Alaska. Currently she has been having sessions with three patients who are leading her to believe that they were all part of separate alien abductions beginning with spying a white owl staring into their rooms at night. Having her husband recently killed during an attempted abduction, she immediately finds herself intrigued by these notions.
Feeling that all of these patients are heavily suppressing something, she records their sessions where strange occurrences begin to happen while the patients are under hypnosis. After one patient, Tommy Fisher (Corey Johnson), winds up shooting his family and committing suicide, the cases are brought to the attention of local Sheriff August (Will Patton) who thinks that Abbey may have something more to do with what’s happening.
UFOs are sighted, bodies are levitated, anal probes whir, Sumerian dialect is uttered, and ultimately Abbey’s daughter too is abducted. A lot happens in this movie but when Osunsanmi doesn’t have the guts to follow through with a great idea (to present facts) and continually shoots himself in the foot with the horrible re-enactments you can’t help but jump back and forth mentally from believing one minute to laughing unintentionally the next. Not to mention that the big reveal of what really happened to Abbey’s husband undercuts the whole plot; you’ll know it when it happens and it is a true moment of utterly ridiculous storytelling.
Another culprit in these proceedings is Will Patton, who sounds like a drunken grizzly bear every time he’s on screen. The only people worthy of the dramatic side to this are Elias Koteas (playing Abbey’s colleague and friend aliased Abel Campos) and Hakeem Kae-Kazim (playing author Dr. Awolowa Odusami who may or may not have known Abbey’s husband).
The whole movie plays out like a cross between Paranormal Activity and The Mothman Prophecies. If you’re going to make a documentary and have faith in your subject then that’s one thing, and if you’re going to make a re-enactment then do that. But don’t present both side by side and make the audience try to figure out what they should be watching.
The “real” footage is cobbled together with the dramatized portions as if someone has watched Ang Lee’s Hulk way too many times. While I admit that the “real” footage is quite intense, effective and ultimately quite chilling, all of the portions with the actors feel like it was made for a Lifetime movie of the week and fails admirably. In the film it is said that the fourth kind of encounter is the worst kind and those words couldn’t be any truer for this whole production.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures