Simon Vesrano/Universal Pictures
Even Leeloo Might Hesitate: After a string of disappearances in a remote Alaska town, psychologist Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) goes out to investigate. What she finds ... well, let's just say it's an otherworldly surprise.
Even Leeloo Might Hesitate: After a string of disappearances in a remote Alaska town, psychologist Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) goes out to investigate. What she finds ... well, let's just say it's an otherworldly surprise. Simon Vesrano/Universal Pictures
The Fourth Kind
- Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi
- Genre: Alien thriller
- Running Time: 98 minutes
Rated PG-13: a little sex, a few thrills, a lot of overacting
With: Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Corey Johnson
Olatunde Osunsanmi wants you to believe. Badly.
Not content to open his new alien-abduction thriller with the usual "based on true events" disclaimer, the director enlists star Milla Jovovich to address the audience at the outset, telling us that what we are about to see is a blend of never-seen archival footage and staged re-enactments. It is also, she adds with deadpan menace, potentially disturbing.
But The Fourth Kind is the cinematic version of a chain e-mail hoax: Take a story with a basis in truth — a rash of well-publicized, FBI-investigated disappearances in the remote Alaskan town of Nome — and throw in a fantastic twist from just at the fringe of believability. (Aliens kidnapped them!) Now corroborate your story with a fabricated but seemingly authoritative witness (psychologist Abigail Tyler, played by Jovovich in those re-enactments and by an unnamed actress as the "real" doctor in the "archival" footage). All that's left is to arrange for the message to be delivered by a trusted source: your aunt, maybe, or your office mate. Or, in this case, a movie star.
Osunsanmi makes a valiant effort to keep the ruse going, and some of his gambits — blurring the supposedly genuine police footage of a murder-suicide, ostensibly to avoid accusations of prurience — are nice touches. But The Fourth Kind's chief source of credibility is a presumably unintentional one: re-enactment dialogue so painfully stilted that the grainy "reality" video seems strikingly naturalistic in comparison.
Ultimately, the overwritten script creeps into even those supposedly genuine segments, mostly in scenes of the "archival" Dr. Tyler being interviewed by the director himself for what appears to be a campus television show at Chapman University. The Hollywood-adjacent Chapman happens to be Osunsanmi's alma mater, but in the context of the movie, he never explains why the faux-documentary interviews take place there, with the university logo prominently emblazoned on the screen's lower third. One suspects it's little more than a desire for an M. Night Shyamalan-style cameo.
Simon Vesrano/Universal Pictures
Jovovich (with Elias Koteas as a fellow shrink) appears in "re-enactments" of supposedly real events, juxtaposed with fake archival footage to drive home the film's documentary conceit.
Jovovich (with Elias Koteas as a fellow shrink) appears in "re-enactments" of supposedly real events, juxtaposed with fake archival footage to drive home the film's documentary conceit. Simon Vesrano/Universal Pictures
(Indeed, the movie's final scene sports a feeble twist that would probably embarrass the director of The Sixth Sense. But in staging it, Osunsanmi completely tips his hand, dramatically pulling the camera back in a fashion that has no place in the kind of documentary interview he's purporting to show.)
For a moment, then, let's assume the director isn't under the impression that a generation raised on The Blair Witch Project is going to buy into his hokum. Does the movie thrill even after the pretense of verisimilitude stops being sustainable? Sometimes, yes. And ironically, some of the scariest moments are those in which the "archival" footage is most obviously manipulated, such as when Dr. Tyler hypnotizes patients she suspects have had alien encounters and films the results. The aliens apparently don't want a record getting out of what they've done, so the videotapes become horribly distorted as the abductees relive the episodes — speaking in tongues and levitating, while the scrambled screen shows just enough of their torment to be genuinely terrifying.
But such scares are few and far between. More typical are Osunsanmi's disastrous attempts to create tension by intercutting the re-enactments with reality. Or worse, running them simultaneously in split-screen. When he divides the screen into quadrants for his big finish, the effect is just laughable — but then by that point, the movie is too.