The Fourth Kind
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Corey Johnson, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Enzo Cilenti, Daphne Alexander
Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi
New York University - Tisch '12
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." -Douglas Adams
The Fourth Kind
Review By: Lee Loechler
The Fourth Kind is a big fibber. It tells the story of events that purportedly took place in Alaska ten years ago, recorded by one Dr. Abigail Tyler. Tyler, a psychologist, traces symptoms of insomnia from multiple patients to their source: alien abduction. The film sets “dramatizations” of the events alongside “archival footage” recorded by Tyler at the time.
Of course, none of it is real.
I’m going to evaluate the film as a work of cinematic fiction, rather than the documentary it so desperately tries to be. The story starts out simply, introducing Milla Jovovich as Dr. Tyler, who uses hypno-therapy to unlock memories in the subconscious of her patients, all of whom express trouble sleeping. Jovovich falls victim to the ambitiously psychological script, which presents a character both uncovering and repressing the truth around her. I’ll chalk off some of her overacting to the fact that her segments are referred to as ‘dramatization’, rather than ‘subtle and realistic re-enactments’. On the flip side, Charlotte Milchard [uncredited, but portraying the 'archival footage' version of Dr. Tyler] is comparably brilliant, giving off just the right amount of creepy, ‘aliens have done things to me’, frailty while grounding the unfolding events nicely in pseudo-reality. She’s the most convincing of the mostly C-list cast, the rest of whom seem to think they’re in a soap opera.
The Fourth Kind reminded me a lot of Paranormal Activity, but maybe that’s because they came out within a month of each other. Both invoke the same ‘fear through supposed reality’ technique popularized by The Blair Witch Project. But where Paranormal Activity revels in showing the audience every ‘encounter’, The Fourth Kind abuses a VHS-blur effect, conveniently blocking out everything but the initial half second of each encounter. This technique is quite maddening. After all, you’re watching this movie to see the damn aliens… if you wanted TV static you’d have unplugged your cable box.
Now let’s talk about the split-screens. The film employs split screens to show ‘archival footage’ alongside ‘dramatization footage’. There are only two clips at once, and that’s not so bad. But at some point the film decides that it can get away with quad splits, and even worse, rotating quad splits! I thought the film industry had learned their lesson after Ang Lee‘s disastrous Hulk movie. Split screening is distracting, and fundamentally unnecessary technique, as anything you can show through a split screen you can show through inter-cutting parallel actions. The only exception I know of is TV’s 24, but there they use split screens only briefly, and even then it’s just for reference.
The DVD’s ‘Special Features’ section needs to be renamed ‘Special Feature’ as there is only one: deleted scenes — which are mostly scenes from the movie with a few additional shots added. I was mildly amused, however, by a non-special feature in the setup menu. You can
Needless to say, the DVD features are very underwhelming. They could have at least thrown in a featurette on UFO sightings or something. There isn’t even a director’s commentary!
Once you know it’s entirely fiction, the film quickly becomes just another sci-fi/horror/thriller. But since it’s got a whole lot of building up, and not a lot of substance in the few moments of climax, it doesn’t really stack up to a lot of its contemporaries in the genre. It tries to do too much, and ends up doing too little.
Movie Grade: C+
DVD Features Grade: F
Overall Grade: C-