The merging of reality and fiction is a popular strategy for films at the moment. Paranormal Activity recently became one of the most successful box office stories in film history with its low-budget, reality-based story. The Fourth Kind attempts to vein some of the same areas; but where Paranormal Activity works as a suspenseful and frightening film, The Fourth Kind fails miserably.
At the beginning of The Fourth Kind, writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi makes an attempt to show us how "real" his movie is going to be. Actress Milla Jovovich appears hovering eerily in a green Alaskan field (it's actually Bulgaria, where the film was shot) warning us that everything that is about to follow is real. It's not only real, she says, but it will also be quite disturbing if we continue to watch. This gimmick did not work. It just gives the film a sheen of self-importance that it doesn't deserve. When the disturbing or frightening things don't come--and they surely do not come--this intro seems even more absurd and empty.
The hook of the story is that we're going to see real video and audio interspersed with recreations to flesh out the mystery of what is going on in Nome, Alaska. A lot of people in Nome are disappearing or committing suicide. The FBI likes to show up a lot and check into things and never say why they are in town. The police don't want to think about it. Dr. Abbey Tyler is a local psychiatrist grappling with the death of her husband. She takes up his work and begins to dig into the subconscious of some of her patients when bizarre or unexplained events occur. It's up to Dr. Tyler to figure out what is going on in Nome.
Dr. Tyler's patients see owls every night at 3:33am when they awake from a sound slumber. These are not nice owls. You do not want to see these kinds of owls in the middle of the night as bad things are about to happen if you do. Sleep time is over for these people. After the owls appear, various people seem to have periods of blackouts when they cannot remember a thing.
Dr. Tyler begins to put her patients under hypnosis to figure out what is happening to them after the owls show up and their memory goes blank. It's not good. It involves the fourth and final kind of contact with alien beings from another planet: abduction. This causes some of Tyler's patients to really go off the deep end, becoming a danger to themselves and others.
Had The Fourth Kind chosen to just go the route of a straight-up alien abduction thriller, it might have morphed into a harmless, aliens abducting humans b-film. It might even have been a fun way to spend 90 minutes on an autumn day in Oklahoma.
Those kinds of films have been done before, Communion (1989) or Fire In the Sky (1993) were a lot more successful mining similar themes. The Fourth Kind makes the disastrous choice of trying too hard while going for the trendy reality hook. It's hard to knock a low-grade film for trying too hard, but the reality angle of the film is the major reason The Fourth Kind fails.
The reality elements, ranging from video interviews, audio interviews, 911 calls, mounted police cruiser cameras and university sanctioned interviews, pop up throughout the film. The grainy, low-tech footage appears often at the same time as the fictionalized version of the story on the screen. Osunsanmi uses split screens that bounce back and forth between the "real" and the dramatized. I absolutely loathed this tactic. Let me repeat myself: I hated the overuse of the real footage. It was bad enough when Osunsanmi used split screens over and over, but when he brought out a quad screen that was rotating and revolving, I wanted to hurl something at the projection booth to end what I was seeing.
Osunsanmi didn't stop at just using video in this way as he'd stack the audio as well. At times, the screen would not only have split video images, but the audio would be bouncing from character to character as the action rotated from "real" footage to recreation. A few times various characters would be saying the same lines on top of each other. Ugh.
Osunsanmi's endless use of "reality" was an attempt to make the story appear more authentic. If done properly, the weaving of reality into the story might have made the film better. It would have to be added in seamless, natural ways that make its use an invisible element of the story. Osunsanmi doesn't go down that path; he browbeats the audience with this footage. It ends up being distracting and confusing. It's just heavy-handed, styleless and blundering filmmaking from Osunsanmi.
There are other things wrong with The Fourth Kind. The script (Mr. Osunsanmi again; am I picking on him too much?) and arc of the story is a disastrous morass of scenes pinned together with the delicate promise of suspense that never comes. The story is often ridiculous--unexplained blindness, a section on Summerian (!) history for example. Jovovich, a woeful actress not known for her depth of character, gives a one-note, stunted performance as Dr. Tyler (in the recreation scenes, the woman who plays Dr. Tyler in the archived footage is worse than Jovovich, which is really saying something). Jovovich needs to stick with post-apocalyptic action films and steer away from drama-based movies.
Written and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, The Fourth Kind attempts to tap into the current zeitgeist of using "reality" to up the authenticity, chills and suspense. It's no Paranormal Activity; it's an amateurish failure. Jovovich made a bunch of promises at the start of the film about what The Fourth Kind was going to do to the viewer; she lied, none of them came to fruition.
Share this article: