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The Fourth Kind Review – But What If the Third Time’s the Charm?

The Fourth Kind Review – But What If the Third Time’s the Charm?” width=”560″/>

The Fourth Kind‘s title refers to UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek’s “close encounter” scale, leading from observation to physical evidence to contact and finally to abduction. Of course, the title is also an obvious shout-out to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Here you can already see the sort of galling one-upmanship that is The Fourth Kind‘s m.o.: You thought Spielberg’s alien visitation classic was really something? Wait ’til you see this.

That bit of chutzpah and foolishness is impressive enough, but The Fourth Kind‘s central gimmick is the real doozy: Apparently enamored of the success of various recent found-footage horror movies — The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Quarantine — director Olatunde Osunsanmi decided to do them one better. He would tell his creepy little story of supernatural goings-on in the tiny town of Nome, Alaska not in a simple faux-documentary style, but as a combination of fake documentary and fake reenactment. You know how sometimes, on cable, desperate news magazine shows will use staged scenes with actors to fill gaps in actual footage? Osunsanmi decided to recreate that.

This is manifestly insane — probably among the dumbest cinematic conceits of all time. But there’s more. Osunsanmi doesn’t merely create fake found footage and fill in the “holes” with “actors” playing the “characters.” Instead, he decides it would be cool if we could watch crucial scenes in split-screen, with the “actual footage” on one side of the frame, and the “reenactment” on the other. Or, if it happens to work better for that particular scene, he might cut back and forth between the two. Or, if for whatever reason only “actual audio” is “available,” we could watch the scene with “actors,” but hear the “actual” audio instead of the “actors'” voices!

If the above sounds pointless and crazy, imagine what it’s like to watch this madness consume a genuinely compelling story. In The Fourth Kind, Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich in the “reenactments”), a psychologist mourning the death of her husband, travels to a remote Alaskan town to continue his work. There, she quickly discovers that much of the town’s population is tormented by the same recurring nightmare. Each night, seemingly in a dream, they see a white owl perch just outside their bedroom window. Just before the dream ends, they reach the startling but uncertain realization that there is something very wrong with this owl, and this fills them with paralyzing terror. Things get even stranger after Dr. Tyler puts a few of the sufferers under hypnosis. It seems that something is visiting the residents of Nome at night — and it’s probably not an owl.

The substance of The Fourth Kind is enormously intriguing, and the story has a tantalizing ambiguity that recalls the best of The X-Files. The raw material is so strong that, on one or two occasions, Osunsanmi manages to evoke the sort of bone-chilling cosmic terror that can accompany an encounter with something so alien it appears to be beyond human comprehension. But the movie is so formally inept — idiotic, even — that the vast majority of it is a complete wreck.

Much of the problem lies in the sheer, incredible pointlessness of the previously discussed central gimmick. Beyond that, The Fourth Kind‘s claims to authenticity — which the movie pushes strenuously, trotting out Milla Jovovich as herself to introduce the movie, and then rolling a good three minutes of where-are-they-now postscripts — are undermined by the stilted, labored awkwardness of the “reenactments,” which are shot mostly in fevered close-ups with dialogue that makes Saw VI play like a model of elegant subtlety.

The end result is a parade of ugly distractions that overwhelms a movie filled with promise. What I want is to commission a remake of The Fourth Kind, this time by someone who is more concerned with storytelling than with showing off.

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