I admit it: I fell for The Fourth Kind, hook, line and sinker. If you know nothing about it and have any desire to see The Fourth Kind, stop reading and do so, or suffer a meaningless, giggle-inducing 98 minutes.
Written and directed by film-industry newcomer Olatunde Osunsanmi, The Fourth Kind is a sloppy, over-the-top sci-fi thriller only forgivable when viewers go blind to the hoax it revolves around. In this way it is a peculiar film, defined almost entirely by viewer knowledge of its subject matter, which, when minimal, yields an enthralling and terrifying experience, but, when sufficient, turns shrieks into laughter and gaping mouths of disbelief into gaping mouths in service to a yawn.
The film poses as a dramatization of actual case studies backed by real video footage and audio recordings, many of which are shown throughout. This is the hook.
As the film begins, actress Milla Jovovich speaks directly to the audience outing herself as a performer in the film, and purports to be playing a character based on a real woman, Dr. Abbey Tyler, who is also featured via a filmed interview intermittently. This is the line.
Some of the characters’ names are presented as aliases, the most gruesome of “real footage” is blurred out and those that wish to remain anonymous have their names silenced all together. The Fourth Kind purposely breaks the fourth wall (coincidence?) in order to convince the audience of its greatest sell: the recordings of real events.
A psychologist investigating the link between numerous cases in her practicing town of Nome, Ala., Dr. Abbey Tyler supposedly recorded sessions with her patients, and, adding police video and recordings of Tyler herself, the film contains many split-screens in which the “real video” is juxtaposed with the dramatization. The home video and audio is a terrifying mixture of alien-possessed Alaskans, UFO evidence and police archives. This is the sinker.
Of course, The Fourth Kind is a hoax. Like Orson Welles and the “War of the Worlds” before it, the film goes to amazing lengths to convince audiences of its truth, challenging the audience to a gullibility test that questions the foundation of what we deem to be entertainment and how far we are willing to go in that definition.
Within the illusion, the film is amazing to watch. The corny acting and suspicious dialogue within the “real” narrative are chalked up to the dramatization, or completely ignored all together as the home video and audio drives the picture. It doesn’t matter if the characters seem like they’re putting on a show, because the film asserts that it is a show.
The scares are as real as the home recordings, and that’s all the film needs to do to be successful: convince viewers that 1) these events actually took place, and, in turn, 2) an alien threat exists, is targeting humankind and may have already paid a visit to you and me.
When the curtain is lifted and The Fourth Kind is revealed for what it truly is, a wholly fictional movie consisting of that girl from Resident Evil flailing around while a bunch of no-names try to act, it loses everything it once had.
Each scene is goofier than the next, each character more like something out of SyFy Channel original movie, each line more obviously scripted than “The Hills.” Without the gimmick, The Fourth Kind is a silly, fruitless, empty gesture destined to be instantly forgotten by those who see it.
However, the gimmick is there, and it begs a serious look at how our culture views entertainment. If we buy into the fact that the film shows real footage of people in serious mental pain and anguish and a brutal murder-suicide caught on tape, what does it say about those of us who willingly seek it out as entertainment?
Moreover, is it true that the proposal of a basis in reality brings in more viewers, that if a film displays itself as a true tale of murder and other unspeakable acts that we are more likely to go see it? Where do we draw the line between entertainment and real life?
By elevating to a new level the tradition of many horror and sci-fi films alike and posing these questions, The Fourth Kind earns its audience. Its odd and committed approach at realism makes it stand out from the crowd, but once that realism is broken, its unpolished nature reveals it as a sickly, poor excuse of a sci-fi thrill.