Review of The Fourth Kind
November 16, 2009
Aliens, hysteria, hallucinations, theology, ancient civilizations, and psychotherapy merge en mass in Nome, Alaska. A shameless hodgepodge of supernatural ridiculousness, The Fourth Kind gave me a first-class headache and left me suffering from rapid IQ depletion.
The film opens with Milla Jovovich introducing herself as the actress who will play Dr. Abbey Tyler. She explains to the audience that everything on the screen will be from video provided by Tyler, audio recordings, or interviews with Tyler. She leaves us to ponder the upcoming movie and decide for ourselves what we believe. The Fourth Kind then goes directly to split-screen between an “actual” video of Abbey Tyler and Milla Jovovich saying exactly the same thing, at the same time, as if to prove to us they are honest depictions. Abbey Tyler, a therapist, is conducting a study of the momentously unstable Nome population. Her patients all report the same experiences and sleeplessness. The insomnia and missing persons seem to be epidemic in Nome. A proponent of hypnotherapy, she gently puts her patients in a trance. As patients remember more and more, they become more vulnerable to malevolent forces. Local sheriff August (Will Patton) tells her to stop the hypnosis sessions, but she feels that she must get to the bottom of what is behind her patients’ visions and sleep deprivation. Somehow, it is all connected.
Director, screen writer, and book writer Olatunde Osunsanmi has a split screen fetish. Most of the time the screen is just split two screens, but occasionally it is split into as many as four different boxes, swirling about obnoxiously. Osunsanmi inflates one or another screen to create false emphasis. Split screens mean split attention, and the viewer spends time comparing how each side is different instead of what they are saying. Maybe that’s the point. When I tried to listen to what each screen said, I wanted to be abducted.
Osunsanmi can’t decide if he wants to make a documentary or a fictional depiction, and he refuses to decide. The end result is a mockumentary. As if the multiple personalities on one screen weren’t enough, Osunsanmi intersperses the film with an interview between himself and the “actual” Abbey. “Actual” Abbey, sitting in her wheel chair, pale and frail, explains what she thinks happened while she and other Abbey are depicted on the screen. If that is confusing at all, you might as well give up now because it gets worse.
It is rare that an audience is exposed to so many ridiculous theories in one movie. There are ancient Sumerian stories of alien creators, ancient alien rocket ship carvings, alien abductions, hallucinations, levitations, channeling, disappearing family members, and murder conspiracies. If this is based on a true story, I’m surprised that Nome, Alaska, is still standing because the city has yet to find an irrational explanation to which it didn’t subscribe.
The worst of it comes right around the time Abbey makes excuses for God. During one of the scenes of a patient being tortured by whatever is using his body to communicate, the entity seems to admit their identity: God. Later though, Abbey—not Jovovich Abbey but “actual” Abbey—says that because it is evil, it cannot be God but can think it is God. Seriously, just like that? It can make your body do horrible things, can make horrible things happen to your family, can cause horrific events; it can control things but because it’s bad, it can’t be God? Next she’ll be saying whatever is speaking through the patient is not a genuine Scotsman. Maybe God just allowed it to happen. I actually groaned out loud and slapped my forehead when I heard that winner.
A well-acted script can cover all manner of ills, but because Osunsanmi decided to use two people for each role, there was a glut of acting issues. Where one Abbey was sincere and believable, the other Abbey couldn’t muster an ounce of reliability or credibility. The only actor with any grasp on the craft was Raphaël Coleman, the fifteen-year-old actor who played Abbey’s son.
When Jovovich begs us to make up our own minds while the first snippet of “actual” footage is shown, disbelief immediately washed over me. By minute ten, I could feel my brain cells going to war. By the end of The Fourth Kind, I was writing abduction wishes in my notebook.