(by Dustin Putman
Following the murder of her husband at the hands of a still-unidentified home intruder, psychologist Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) has had a rough time processing the tragedy for herself as she struggles to raise her two children Ronnie and Ashley (Mia McKenna-Bruce), the latter stricken with a bout of blindness since her father's death. Having relocated from North Carolina to the self-contained wilderness town of Nome, Alaska, Abigail has successfully restarted her practice. The more she hears from her patients, however, the more similarities she notes within their experiences, each one sleep-deprived and remembering very little besides a white owl perched outside their bedroom window. Abigail decides to use them for a sleep study, hoping it may help to answer why Nome has been beset by unexplainable occurrences and disappearances dating from the present all the way back to the 1960s. Putting them under hypnosis as a means of recovering memories locked within their subconscious, she discovers, little by little, the terrifying link between these residents and extraterrestrial visitors. Worse yet, they may be coming after her family next, much to the skeptical chagrin of the increasingly suspicious Sheriff August (Will Patton). Article continues below
As spine-tingling as recent box-office phenomenon "Paranormal Activity," "The Fourth Kind" could do for aliens what that film has done for poltergeists. The similarities between the two movies boil down to the restraint with which they have been made, trusting that what you don't see—the power of the unknown—is far more lingeringly frightening than what you do. Whereas "Paranormal Activity" is a fictional film made, like 1999's "The Blair Witch Project," with home video cameras handled by the actors themselves, "The Fourth Kind" is a super-savvy Hollywood-produced thriller that casts recognizable veteran actors such as Milla Jovovich (2009's "A Perfect Getaway"), Elias Koteas (2009's "The Haunting in Connecticut") and Will Patton (2008's "Wendy and Lucy") in roles purported to not only be real, but based on noted conversations and actual recordings of Dr. Abigail Tyler's case studies. Not only that, writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi uses split screens and expert editing to tell the story alternately—and sometimes simultaneously—through both the conventional acted-out narrative and never-before-seen archival footage of the real people the picture is based upon. Because the script is taken oftentimes straight from the source, the dialogue mirrors the audio and video, as does much of the production design, set decoration, costumes, and performances. It is stunning to behold as the viewer is allowed to compare and contrast the dramatizations with reality, and vice versa, lending the storytelling a complimentary layer of eerie plausibility with a sense of eavesdropping on aspects of human nature and the paranormal so harrowing one isn't sure whether to turn away or not.
So far, so good. Viewing "The Fourth Kind" as exactly what it claims to be is eye-opening bordering on downright groundbreaking, complete with the sort of sensationalistic—but not too sensationalistic as to stop being believable—archival footage, including therapy sessions and police tapes, that the regular public never expects to see. That the true-life videos offer a fair amount of evidence concerning the existence of aliens and UFOs is like icing on an already bizarre, potentially explosive cake. Because post-viewing online research reveals that the entire case is actually a hoax and a Dr. Abigail Tyler does not appear to exist—the only information that comes up about her and the events surrounding the movie are from fake newspapers and journals in the Northern Pacific area that were created only a couple months before the film's release date—there is undoubtedly a tinge of resulting disappointment. Ponder the picture more closely with this new information, though, and "The Fourth Kind" is reborn as something just as impressive. That director Olatunde Osunsanmi and his unbilled cast of "real" people could so seamlessly pull the wool over an audience's eyes through the rawness and grit of their brilliantly committed performances is astonishing. It also begs to question if there has been any past film quite like this one. In a land of recycled ideas and remakes, "The Fourth Kind" is a valiant original, no matter how deceptive it may ultimately be. The ease with which it fools you is part of the fun.
Upon seeing the film a second time, it works on a new, just as pleasing, level: as a rousing technical and aesthetic achievement where the line between fact and fiction is no longer blurred by what we are told from the start, but through the sheer proficiency of its remarkable cast and production values. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi only overplays his cards when the "real" video we are watching would likely be caught up in police files and legal matters, as in the depiction of a murder-suicide of one of Abigail's patients and his family. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of encroaching dread that is mustered is raised high, with scenes of hypnoses, alleged possession, and a worn, disheveled Abigail's 2002 interview with Osunsanmi at Chapman University eliciting a great many goosebumps. Meanwhile, the mere audio recording captured of what could be extraterrestrials speaking in Sumerian ("The Holy Grail of dead languages," one person describes it as) is disturbing in its very inhumanity. Those sounds are, indeed, scarier than any blatant visual manifestation of aliens could have been had the film made the wrong decision to go in that direction. Fortunately, it doesn't.
Attractively lensed in Bulgaria, posing quite well as Alaska, "The Fourth Kind" has got the moodiness of a wooded, isolated, fog-hewn surrounding down pat. As Dr. Abigail Tyler battles her own demons—including the facts she doesn't want to face in regard to her husband's death—and becomes embroiled in her patients' uncanny otherworldly encounters, she doesn't yet know that danger is irrevocably edging ever closer to her and her children. Milla Jovovich makes for a compassionate, sympathetic Abigail, a more intentionally glamorous version of the "real" Abigail seen in archival video. Free from the constraints of playing a no-nonsense action heroine yet again, Jovovich shows again that she is just as capable of stretching her acting muscles and digging into an eclectic mix of characters. She is ably supported by Elias Koteas, a beacon of support as colleague and friend Dr. Campos; Will Patton, on edge and unwilling to believe what is staring him in the face as Sheriff August; and a long list of uncredited performers (playing the non-fiction subjects recounted in the picture) who deserve a large portion of the credit for making the film so riveting. The existence of intelligent life on other planets and the possibilities of visitation and abduction have been topics widely debated throughout the centuries. With or without the knowledge of its own trickery, "The Fourth Kind" pulls convincing sway for the length of its running time. You will believe.