Movie Review – The Fourth Kind (2009)

The Fourth Kind (2009) partly employs the successful found footage approach of The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2009) to the largely neglected horror subgenre of alien abduction. Splicing supposed “actual footage” with Hollywood quality dramatizations, often in split screen, the film manages to create a unique and effective viewing experience that really allows the audience’s imagination to run wild.

Most of the genuine scares are relegated to the “archival” footage which the film claims was taken in 2000 (my reason for using quotations marks will be explained below). This includes the psychiatric therapy sessions conducted by the protagonist, Dr. Abigail Tyler, which eventually show disturbing body-bending levitations. Assumingly due to magnetic disruptions of some sort from the aliens, each time the footage begins to show the evidence of an abduction the video will distort and obscure the audience’s view, leaving only glimpses of what is transpiring accompanied by an unsettling audio. Those hoping to see advanced CGI or monstrous aliens will be disappointed, as the director wisely leaves the majority of the thrills up to the viewer’s imagination, understanding that what we envision in our minds is always more frightening than what he could show us.

The film opens with Milla Jovovich, who plays Dr. Abigail Tyler in the dramatizations, talking directly into the camera, telling us that the story we are about to see is based on actual (though conveniently unspecified) case studies and that what we ultimately believe is entirely our choice. This potentially sets the audience up to be more accepting of the scenes that follow – the possibility that what they are seeing is real likely increases the terror factor considerably. The strong performances by the cast help in pulling the audience in (although Jovovich, who I credit as a good actress, can be distractingly attractive).

Of course, this is all a Hollywood gimmick to make the experience more potent (and it’s admittedly more sophisticated and cheaper than William Castle’s vibrating seats), and all of the events are in actuality fictional. The “actual” Dr. Abigail Tyler who is seen in the interview session throughout the film with the director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, is in turn merely another talented, though lesser known, actress.

While I commend the film for taking this psychological approach, and executing its scares with a less-is-more attitude, the director unfortunately does not follow that same wisdom when it comes to selling his story as being based on actual events. He is too heavy-handed in beating it over the viewer’s head. Particularly in the end, which is understandably abrupt considering the movie’s nature, when we are told of an imaginary character still missing, given the current whereabouts of fake people, and then are still told to take the “evidence” into account and make up our own minds. There is a point at which a film asks us to suspend disbelief for entertainment purposes and a point in which it flatly begins to lie and mislead, and the line begins to be crossed in the last moments of the film, which I will not spoil here. It can lose people just when it really has them. Osunsanmi should have started the credits a minute earlier before he showed us too much.

The Fourth Kind is a creative film that works best when it centers on the fears of invasion and violation, where not even one’s locked home is a refuge. (There are also allusions in the film linking alien abductions to demonic possessions and religious experience – i.e. the intervention of a deity – which is an interesting idea that I wish they had explored further.) However, just when I think a director understands and trusts his audience enough to be confident that his scares will resonate, he instead relies too heavily on exhaustively selling the truthfulness of his fiction, and in turn distracts us from enjoying what could have been a more effective story.

Grade: C+