The Fourth Kind (review)

Fake Reality

Look: it’s all a crock of extraterrestrial doo-doo. There is no Dr. Abigail Tyler. Well, all right, with so common a name as that, there are probably lots of Dr. Abigail Tylers, but none of them is a Nome, Alaska, psychologist who has videotaped her patients experiencing hypnotic regressions in which they scream and scream through memories of being abducted by aliens.
There is no “archival footage” of these sessions upon which The Fourth Kind was based. None of the “archival footage” we see here, as terrifyingly plausible as it is, is real. Seriously. I promise you.

Also, Nome don’t look nothing like the verdant mountain town we see onscreen here.

This is the same kind of put-on as the low-budget phenomenon Paranormal Activity. Except it’s far more effective (at least at first). Because while there’s always a little voice in the back of your head with that other film that’s whispering, “Hey, it’s just a cheapo movie that some kid made with his camcorder,” there’s none of that here. This is clearly not a cheapo movie some kid made with his camcorder: it’s a slick, expensive Hollywood product that, paradoxically, lends itself more credence via its own slickness as well as its willingness to counter that slickness in the most startling fashion.

It’s like this: The movie opens with actress Milla Jovovich (A Perfect Getaway, Resident Evil: Extinction), all gorgeous and lovely and in glorious 70mm, walking up to the camera and introducing herself as actress Milla Jovovich, and announcing that she will be portraying psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler in this story, which — she swears to God and everything — is based on actual events and they’re gonna show you the actual evidence, and, you know, you’ll just have to make up your own mind about it all, though frankly you’re an idiot if you don’t buy it.

And then we cut to a comparatively crudely videotaped interview between Olatunde Osunsanmi — who is the actual director (and coscreenwriter, with Terry Lee Robbins) of The Fourth Kind — interviewing the “real” Tyler, who is gaunt and pale and nowhere near as ravishing as Jovovich. (I feel bad for the actress playing the “real” Tyler: she gets no credit at all.) And as the film continues intercutting the “dramatizations” of Tyler’s — that is, Jovovich’s — interviews with her patients with the “actual” videotaped material the “dramatizations” are based on, you start to notice little details. The people are all more attractive on the Hollywood side; the rooms are all a little bigger and decorated a little more expensively; everything has just that extra bit of fake sheen, which is especially noticeable thrown into stark contrast with more mundane “reality” we are often shown, literally, side by side.

It’s a powerful way to play with the notion of “reality,” because held up so blatantly for comparison with polished, glossy Hollywood spin, it only underscores how accustomed we’ve become to seeing something less than “real” onscreen, even when we’re meant to accept it without question. Which lends The Fourth Kind’s insistence on its own reality an extra layer of credibility. Jovovich doesn’t really say that we’re idiots if we don’t believe. But it’s sorta the implication. It’s kind of a play on, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” You know, like: Who are ya gonna believe, the part of your brain that wants to believe this is all real, or the other part of your brain that knows it’s all a Hollywood crock? Because, geez, what more evidence do you need than some shaky, grainy video and real-lookin’ people lookin’ real scared? How much more real could that get?

Alas, as is very frequently the case with movies with spectacular setups, The Fourth Kind can’t manage to carry it through to an entirely satisfactory finish, partly because eventually it runs into the limits of what we know is really real, and partly because from so histrionic a beginning, it has nowhere to go but into the stratosphere of melodrama from there. No spoilers: suffice to say that eventually it becomes impossible to suspend our disbelief as we have been so willing to do all along.

I suspect that, in the long run, the most intriguing thing about The Fourth Kind will be watching the “debate” over the authenticity of what Osunsanmi has given us here. There is no question that all of what we see onscreen here is entirely invented. But that won’t stop some from being unwilling to accept that.

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