The Fourth Kind (review)

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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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Thu, Nov 05, 2009 12:08pm

When I saw the trailer before District 9, I was creeped out by the owl face morphing into the gray alien. I can’t watch the commercials for this or the movie itself, now. That image will haunt me forever, eesh. Maybe it’s just me.

Thu, Nov 05, 2009 12:16pm

This review is way off-base! I saw a screening of The Fourth Kind, too, and I advise other readers here to see this movie for themselves. Otherwise, you may very well miss out.

Personally, I thought The Fourth Kind was one of the scariest sci-fi films to-date. There were some definitely freaky and intense scenes that left my friends and I cringing. Aside from Milla Jovovich’s convincingly strong performance, what I really liked about the film was how it incorporates the split-screen footage… it was a very effective technique on the director’s part for really building suspense and engaging the viewer. All in all, if you’re looking to get freaked out from beginning to end, then I think The Fourth Kind will certainly do it for you.

Fri, Nov 06, 2009 3:09am

Call me a grognard if you like, but to me this sort of explicit “out-of-character” lying oversteps the bounds of acceptability. Still, perhaps it will finally lay to rest the concept of the “celebrity endorsement” now that it’s apparent even to the meanest intellect that actors really will say any old rubbish for money.

Fri, Nov 06, 2009 9:34am

Huh. Of all the people I thought might become the 21st century answer to Criswell, Milla Jovovich was near the bottom of the list.

Aaron Gottfried
Wed, Nov 11, 2009 12:17am

So this movie isn’t absolutely real? haha . Please someone tell me. The taped sessions weren’t real?

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 10:29am

The taped sessions they show side-by-side against the Jovovich film were completely real and not at all produced by the studio and placed alongside Hollywood-stylized footage in order to make you think they were real and to cash in on the “found footage” genre of the Blair Witch, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity styled movies.

Thu, Nov 26, 2009 12:17am

Just saw it (Thanksgiving Eve).
The first gore scene, I couldn’t help to think about
how I was going to carve up the turkey.
Ninjas running around in traffic made me crack up
laughing. Lesson learned: The bumper/grill is mighter
than the sword.

Thu, Nov 26, 2009 12:21am

Whups-sorry wrong movie comment.
Re: The Forth Kind. Saw that too. It would have stayed with me longer if I didn’t google how faux documentary
it was. Apparently, the only niblet of truth was that
Nome actually had some folks disappear across a number
of years. Investigators found most were intoxicated
Native Americans that died from exposure. Otherwise,
it was okay-not great or even good.