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The Fourth Kind
Reviewed by Derek Johnson, © 2009

Format: Movie
By:   Olatunde Osunsanmi (director)
Genre:   sf/horror mockumentary
Review Date:   November 04, 2009
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   3/10 (What Is This?)

The aliens are here, and they're abducting unwary individuals in Nome, Alaska. So asserts director Olatunde Osunsanmi's The Fourth Kind, which attempts to take the concept of alien visitation and abduction into the mockumentary territory inhabited by The Blair Witch Project (the first horror movie to stake claim), Cloverfield and the recent Paranormal Activity.

But it has two specific differences: (1) unlike the aforementioned films, The Fourth Kind purports to be based on actual events, backed up by documentary evidence used during the movie itself; and (2) unlike the aforementioned films, it has nothing to recommend it beyond its premise or its dubious assertions.

Opening with Milla Jovovich breaking the fourth wall to inform viewers that the movie is based on “actual case studies” (which case studies are never divulged), the movie tells the story of Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist and mother of two whose husband she remembers being murdered by an intruder as she slept. She treats patients with the same recurring story: a white owl watches them before they fall asleep at night; once asleep, their dreams disturb and torment them.

The owl, Tyler learns after hypnotizing her patients, is not an owl at all, but aliens who have abducted them for . . . well, for what purpose, we never learn. But the reason apparently is so hideous that one patient kills his family and himself, thus involving Nome's sheriff's department, run by a law enforcement officer (played thanklessly by Will Patton) who wonders if Tyler's experiments with hypnosis might have been part of the cause of the murder-suicide. As more strange phenomena ensues, the sheriff confines Tyler to her home, where, one night, her daughter is supposedly taken by aliens.

Osunsanmi intercuts his film with purportedly actual footage of Tyler's patients, from therapy sessions showing Tyler's patients under hypnosis to police recordings (including the murder-suicide) to an interview with the “real” Abigail Tyler, in an attempt to give the story credence, and thus its edge. What follows, the viewer is told, is real, and what he or she takes from it is his or hers to decide. While interesting in theory, in practice the “actual footage” and the dramatizations shown side-by-side in split screen fashion becomes distracting.

Worse, it begins to feel like an extended episode of the television show A Haunting, which intercuts dramatizations with interviews of those individuals who have had strange experiences. This comparison becomes all the more painful because of Milla Jovovich's performance; a beautiful lady, Jovovich has several scenes which are split-screened with footage of the real Dr. Tyler, which, from a strictly thespian standpoint, make it obvious that she is out of her depth as an actress.

Worse, Osunsanmi's direction is plodding, heavyhanded and dull. He does not have a feel for pace or character, leaving Elias Koteas and Patton with little more to do than shout across the screen. Moreover, he begins every scene with an establishing shot of trees surrounding Nome, making it appear that one must travel across a deciduous forest in order to get from one part of town to another.

(Indeed, a simple Wikipedia search revealed that these scenes were not filmed anywhere near Nome, thus hurting its credibility as a "true story.")

And Osunsanmi makes bad decisions throughout the movie. Given the subject matter, he would have been wise to interview people who have studied UFO phenomena. He could have given an overview of UFOs and alien abductions, thus providing viewers more food for thought. By making a straight dramatization, however, he leaves no room for real exploration, making the film fail as a documentary and a movie. Especially as a movie, because it lacks any conclusion.

And he shreds what credibility the movie might have had by playing 911 calls of individuals who are reporting contact with UFOs, making the entire thing seem silly at best, exploitative at worst.

Several years ago, a television series called In Search Of. . . examined pseudoscience and the paranormal, including UFO phenomena. The series was eerie and offered its viewers a sense of mystery and wonder, all wrapped up with Leonard Nimoy's adept narration. Like The Fourth Kind, it joggled the viewer, and left him or her asking, “What if?” Unfortunately, The Fourth Kind leaves its viewers asking, “What the hell?”

Derek Johnson's critical works have appeared in SF Site and RevolutionSF. He lives in Central Texas with the Goddess.

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