The Fourth Kind is Second Rate Sci-Fi

The Fourth Kind features Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element) as Dr. Abigal Tyler, a psychologist who moves to the secluded town of Nome, Alaska to take up her murdered husband’s study on the natives’ sleeping habits. Many of the townspeople report an owl keeping them awake by staring into their bedroom windows late at night. When Dr. Tyler begins hypnotizing victims to get a better idea of what’s really keeping the citizens of Nome awake, her husband’s study takes a terrifying turn into the realm of science fiction.

Cut with “real” footage of the Nome study, The Fourth Kind is presented in a rather unique documentary style. The film as a whole is presented like a super high-budget episode of Unsolved Mysteries, with “real” footage and audio of the events at Nome interspersed with scenes of actors and actresses reenacting a dramatic narrative. With an introduction by actress Milla Jovovich and centered around a filmed interview between director Olatunde Osunsanmi and the “real” Abigail Tyler, the movie goes out of its way to bring that based-on-a-true-story feeling home.

While it seemed cheesy at first, I was surprised to find this format both effective and engaging. Whereas films with a strict actual footage approach, like the recent Paranormal Activity, can be either bought into or not; The Fourth Kind’s admitted mix of fact and fiction leaves the viewer more room to doubt. Since the director admits up front that the majority of the film is acted fiction, the file footage is automatically set apart as fact. Whether or not anything like these events ever happened in Nome (hint: they didn’t), it sure seems like they could have.

But these “real” excerpts contribute more than just an air of believability. Osunsanmi’s (and editor Paul Covington’s) masterful use of split screen during key scenes keeps the viewer’s eyes darting around the screen, cranking up the audience tension in some already suspenseful situations. The audio and video excerpts, as well, provide some of the film’s legitimately chilling moments. One audio clip, in particular, gave me some pretty serious goosebumps.

It’s a surprise, then, that despite having a format encouraging believability, The Fourth Kind’s most notable flaw is its lack of realism. By the film’s halfway point, some legitimately freaky stuff has gone down, and characters start to fill stereotype roles (the expert, the skeptic, etc.) rather than react like real humans. It’s frustrating when characters hold back important, potentially life-saving information, seemingly just so the director can squeeze a few more drops of drama out of the story.

The Verdict: If you’re a fan of cheesy, In Search Of…-style science fiction, you’ll love The Fourth Kind. Its unique take on the recent documentary fiction trend is, in a lot of ways, the most believable of them all. It’s unfortunate, then, that its characters are the least realistic. Their horrible choices, plus some less than stellar dialogue, will be sure to drive some viewers away.

Still, if the subject matter piques your interest, The Fourth Kind is one of the better recent films in the genre. If you’re unsure, you can’t go wrong with a rental in a few months.

2.0 stars (out of 4)

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