The new sci-fi abduction thriller The Fourth Kind should really be called 'The Fourth Wall', because right from the start the film consciously makes the choice to break that wall and have the actors talk directly to the audience as themselves. As the camera annoyingly spins around her, star Milla Jovovich walks right up to the lens and tells us that she will be playing a real life person, psychiatrist Abbey Tyler, who you’ll sometimes see on screen in purportedly “real video footage” of the incidents portrayed. Jovovich then warns us that what we’ll see is deeply disturbing, but the ultimate effect of all this explanation isn’t disturbance, it’s just distraction.
Writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi tries to convince us that the story is true by constantly using a split screen of the “real footage” next to his actors’ word for word reenactments. Unfortunately instead of making the film more chilling and unsettling, that technique just makes the whole thing obvious and theatrical: you’re always aware you’re watching a movie with actors and are never drawn into the mythology of the story.
The movie operates under dual assumption that you’ve either never seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind or The X Files, or that you’ll buy into this as an unofficial sequel to both. But the sad fact is that The Fourth Kind plays more like one of those cheesy alien documentaries you see on Discovery Channel, complete with low budget abduction vignettes intercut with the real victims interviews about what you’ve just seen.
The plot focuses on the sad tale of psychiatrist Tyler, who’s unfortunate use of hypnosis on herself and her patients reveals a potential wave of terrifying alien abductions taking place in the remote town of Nome, Alaska. The hypnosis sessions also seem to physically damage the participants as they relive some horrible alien experiments.
From that description, it sounds like the film should be an exciting, unnerving thriller. But the lack of a propulsive plot, a likeable character, or even a point of view, robs the film of any entertainment value; it ends up a rather grim experience, as Dr. Tyler’s entire life, family and eventually freedom are stripped away while various Nome citizens either disappear or commit suicide. Wow, that was fun!
Admittedly, one of the purportedly "real" video clips is truly freaky, depicting an abductee under hypnosis, who suddenly snaps up in bed, screams wildly in pain, then shockingly appears to float several inches above the sheets…but like all the other purportedly “real” video footage of “Fourth Kind” activity, the image gets scrambled up before you can really make out what’s happening (a very convenient cheat).
And that’s the best metaphor for this film: writer/director Osunsanmi scrambles up a bunch of hoary sci-fi clichés with docudrama techniques, better known film and TV references, and a hodgepodge of directing styles to end up with a fairly tasteless and unremarkable omelet of a movie. Yeah he throws in some evil owls, Sumerian gods, and a nasty alien probe, but the ultimate result was a grumbling midnight movie audience who shuffled out of the theater neither scared, freaked out, nor entertained.