2 Stars
Year Released: 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 98 minutes
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Talk about self-destructive execution: “The Fourth Kind” musters all its strength to set up a purportedly true-life scenario about alien sightings in Nome, Alaska, circa mid-90s, only to give itself away at every turn. Real-life horrors are back, with “Paranormal Activity” exploiting its limited wit and content to climb the box office. As limited as this film is, it nonetheless plays the true-life angle safe, not jeopardizing it until some illogic appears midway (footprints? C’mon now…) and then CGI throws out a slam-bang finale.

“The Fourth Kind” is another story. In the opening minutes, Milla Jovavich addresses the camera, as herself, to swear that the film tells the truth and nothing but – for she will recreate the role of Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychiatrist who interviews the witnesses (to her own peril, as we’ll see). The film intercuts the recreations with the “real” footage featuring performances even stagier than the embalmed-looking Jovovich. While we’re reminded that this ex-model never learned to act, her counterpart (played by a distractingly Alien-eyed, unnamed actor) projects her dread through a zombie-like line-reading. We’re too confused by the approach to be freaked out by it. And with aliens talking in an ancient human language and using telepathy, it’s as if writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi made a lazy retread through sci-fi horror when scripting.

The film uses the purported archival footage as a recurring device. Osunsanmi splits the screen in an attempt to depict the making of narratives in psychiatry, while he cops out during the film’s shocking moments, in which the footage gets conveniently distorted with static. (Apparently, the aliens can control the analog signals in the cameras.) The recreated footage, with Jovovich posing as a doctor, features actors convulsing as if they were assigned to mimic a seizure victim in acting class. We can’t knock the film for attempting to be experimental, but we can for subjecting us to such bad results.

“The Fourth Kind’s” only strength remains at the conceptual level. All the witnesses report seeing a watchful owl outside their windows, a piece of the uncanny that could be right out of one of Freud’s case histories. Usually a symbol of wisdom, the owl now appearing in the mind’s eye – a brief glimpse of one on screen doesn’t add much – has bulbous, evil eyes. It strikes upon something in the unconscious, sends out a chill and, hence, forgives the obvious match of owl to googly-eyed alien.

Those of us who will see a dull horror film to the end (since we love the genre) demand some kind of payoff. The similar-themed “The Mothman Prophecies” (2002) pulled out one by borrowing from the disaster film genre, as the strange occurrences predicted a bridge collapse: a bold move, true, but at least it made good. “The Fourth Kind” has nowhere to go and sticks to its real-life/reel-life device. It feels like mud by the second act.

Posted on November 6, 2009 in Reviews by

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