Movie Review: The Fourth Kind (2009)

Milla Jovovich in The Fourth Kind
Photo: Universal Pictures

Perhaps I am over-reacting, but the “this is real” approach to Universal’s alien abduction thriller The Fourth Kind grates on me something fierce. I have no problem with filmmakers saying something is “based on” or “inspired by” true events, but to have your lead actress walk out at the opening of your film and basically say what I am about to watch includes “actual” archived footage and it is up to me to believe it or not is a sleight of hand I have a hard time respecting.

The Fourth Kind is attempting to pull-off the Blair Witch Project “is it really real?” stunt and I’m not sure how it will play with most viewers, but with me it was a distraction overused to the point of annoyance. Making use of the word “actual” along with split-screens, audio readings, Sumerian translations and a pesky snowy owl that keeps showing up at 3:33 AM the film has a hard time actually telling a story as much as it tries convincing us it has a story. And don’t ask me if 3:33 AM is a global constant or if daylight saving and time zones are taken into account, because when it comes to “actual” facts this film is fleeting at best.

Milla Jovovich plays the purportedly real-life character Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist that not only videotaped her patients having seizures while under hypnosis, but has apparently agreed to release them for the purpose of making a dramatized horror film. Tyler is/was/never was a psychologist in Nome, Alaska and the story is something of a 98-minute episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” only without the supposed facts and without the mystery.

To corroborate what is seen on screen the film oftentimes goes to split-screen showing on one side what is said to be the “actual” recording and on the other the dramatization. Also included is a faux interview segment peppered throughout the film with what is said to be the “real” Dr. Tyler being interviewed by the film’s writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi.

To be fair, the supposed archived footage looks incredibly authentic and like any “alien sighting” videos you see it isn’t at all conclusive as it frequently gives in to electronic interference. As a matter of fact, the convincing nature of this footage had me staying in my seat with a couple of other critics, watching the credits and looking for any admission the footage was fake. It never came and as a result The Fourth Kind ends up nothing more than a gimmick whereas I could have walked away with some measure of respect and intrigue.

Admittedly, it does offer a couple of scares and a few creepy moments thanks to a some good sound work, but the split screen technique and the continuing attempts to convince the audience what they were watching was real became an awful nuisance. Perhaps they were trying to play it up to the point you would walk away thinking it was simply too over the top to be real, but when you end the film with a disclaimer similar to the one you started it with you are trying to maintain your poker face, which is ultimately undone thanks to not knowing when to say when.

The Fourth Kind is fine as a mild diversion, and may give you a creep or two with the lights out on DVD, but overall it’s just a tolerable diversion.