The Fourth Kind
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi. Starring Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Hakeem Kae-Kazim. (2009, PG-13, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 6, 2009
Arriving with possibly the cheekiest film title of the year, The Fourth Kind is a pseudo-mockumentary that echoes both The Blair Witch Project and The X-Files. As a film, it's a canny little goof of a thing, chock-full of alien-abduction theorizing and purportedly based on actual events and persons which are incorporated into its weirdly effective hodgepodge of a structure. As a horror film, The Fourth Kind is close kin to the inexplicably well-received Paranormal Activity – both movies try to effectively blur the line between reality and fiction – but only Osunsanmi's film is actually effective in both its narrative drive and the generation of suspense. The title here refers with a wink and a grin to Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That classic slice of Seventies sci-fi depicted an alien invasion (sort of) as a cuddly, life-affirming meeting between moon-faced, interstellar bendy toys and emotionally gushy human beings. The aliens in The Fourth Kind are more on par with Whitley Strieber's grays; they don't come in peace, and they're more interested in torturing our nether regions than they are in meeting our leader. Jovovich "plays" Dr. Abigail Tyler (she also plays herself at the film's beginning and ending). She is a psychiatrist in Nome, Alaska, who notices a trend in her patients – and then in her own home – when various locals begin telling her about visitations by giant owls in the night. Those creepy bird-things aren't owls, of course, but actual visitors from the stars, and director Osunsanmi deftly mixes "real" footage of Dr. Tyler discussing her increasingly nightmarish situation with another therapist with sequences of Jovovich and others acting out episodes from Dr. Tyler's bizarre life. It's patently hokey material, but then these are patently hokey times (kids trapped in UFO/weather balloons, anyone?) and The Fourth Kind succeeds by dint of sheer crazy momentum. There's much use of really real – no, seriously, we, the filmmakers, promise you it's real – recordings of buzzing alien jibber-jabber and poorly white-balanced Handycam footage, not to mention some actual nail-biting suspense along the way. This is a strange movie (it feels like a lost episode of the old Leonard Nimoy chestnut In Search of …) about strange people doing strange things. Whether or not any of what's up on screen actually happened is, frankly, beside the point. What counts is the fact that you leave the theatre grinning and just a little creeped out, as though you'd just watched Richard Dreyfuss run back out of the CE3K mothership and yell "It's a cookbook!"