Opening Friday, November 6
Directed by Olatunde Osansanmi
A film that is confused about what it is, is usually a sure fire mess, unable to weave some sort of coherent story out of a mass of conflicting elements that have been shoved into it. It is possible to get something out of that sort of catastrophe, a kind of happy accident that its director can do nothing but thank his lucky stars for and hope he can repeat.
It’s possible Olatunde Osansanmi’s “The Fourth Kind” is one of those, but it’s so schizophrenic, it’s hard to say for certain. It’s either a surprisingly subtle exploration of a woman’s nervous breakdown that interestingly blurs the line between fiction and reality; or it’s a hyperbolic, overdone alien abduction thriller that’s so in love with its own bullsh*t it can’t tell how lost it really is. As star Milla Jovovich directly reminds the audience more than once, everyone must decide for themselves.
And that’s just the beginning of the fourth-wall breaking, as writer/director Osansanmi attempts to build suspense not through standard pacing or mise en scÃ¨ne created mode (although there is plenty of that) but by a continuous reminder that “this is all real.”
“The Fourth Kind” purports to be the true story of the experience of Dr. Abigail Tyler (Jovovich), a psychologist living in Nome, Alaska, and her attempts to treat several different town members who seemed to be suffering from psychological trauma relating to their suppressed memories as alien abduction victims. Memories that produce horrible consequences when brought to the surface.
In order to sell the ‘reality’ of the events he is portraying, Osansanmi contrasts his dramatization with archival video footage of the events he is recreating. Several times he places both versions on screen together to show how close to reality the film is, as well as interspersing the story with excerpts of an interview between himself and the actual Dr. Tyler.
It’s interesting as experiments go; any attempt to try some new way to tell stories is worthwhile, considering how hard that is to do. On the other hand, by their nature most experiments are also failures with only handful leading to real innovation.
Osansanmi’s attempt more often than not gives his film the feeling of a larger, better acted “Ghost Hunters” episode, or some similar paranormal reality show. It does exactly what Osansanmi wants and disrupts the suspension of disbelief, in theory to create more insight into Tyler’s personal mental process, but that takes away more from the film than it gives back.
If it works at all, it’s thanks to Jovovich’s performance as a gradually-unwinding Tyler and Koteas as the colleague she turns to help her unwind the situation she’s found herself in.
Her husband, a psychologist who had been researching the instances of suicide around Nome and their possible connection to abduction theories, was killed in an unclear but traumatic fashion that left their youngest daughter psychosomatically blind and Tyler an emotional wreck.
And that’s when “The Fourth Kind” really gets interesting, as it occasionally moves away from its Chariots of the Gods theorizing and suppressed memories and starts to ask uncomfortable questions about Tyler’s mental state and whether what she thinks is happening, is actually happening.
Aliens are sexier than psychosis, of course, so the film tends to spend far more time focusing on abductions, a focus that, barring a harrowing hostage situation, eventually becomes more tedious than not. The style Osansanmi has chosen, while different from the norm, has its own limitations and they overpower some of the suspense, especially the climax that it would be polite to call a jumble.
The character work on display in “The Fourth Kind” is actually genuinely interesting but the choice to deliberately play up the fake nature of film probably worked better in concept than reality. It’s supposed to enhance the suspense of the moments through the sheer intensity of the ‘reality’ (which may or may not even be real itself) but it doesn’t quite work the way it seems like it should.
It’s an interesting meta-textual experiment, but that doesn’t in itself make for an interesting movie, or a suspenseful one. There are things to like about it, but the whole doesn’t really seem equal to the sum of its parts. It’s hard to say, as the film’s structure makes it difficult to determine how much was intended and how much the viewer is putting into it.
But who knows, maybe its even deeper than it lets on, or even meant to be. Maybe the movie’s right, maybe you really do have to see and decide for yourself.