The flat-lining, alien-abduction thriller “The Fourth Kind” offers a close encounter that buries an interesting idea under a barrage of gimmicky, carnivallike hokum. The movie’s unwieldy mix of degraded pseudo-documentary footage and “Unsolved Mystery”-style re-enactments is as unconvincing as it its distancing, making the small charms of “Paranormal Activity” all the more apparent by comparison.
“The Fourth Kind” opens with Milla Jovovich appearing on-screen, introducing herself as an “actress,” the first of many dubious claims the film makes. Jovovich tells us that she’ll be playing Dr. Abigail Emily Tyler and that all the trauma we’re about to see — including some footage, we’re advised, that is “extremely disturbing” — can be supported by documented records and interviews.
And, indeed, we’re immediately whisked to a conversation with the “real” Dr. Abigail Tyler, a saucer-eyed zombie woman haunted by those extremely disturbing events occurring nine years ago.
Tyler and her husband, both psychologists, are investigating some strange coincidences happening in Nome, Alaska. Patients report waking up at 3 a.m., feeling apprehensive and seeing snowy owls with really big eyes. The film presents these events in split-screen fashion with the “real,” raw videotaped footage of the patients’ recollections playing side-by-side with the actors’ reconstructions.
Curious about the owls, Tyler puts her patients under hypnosis, where she discovers that the nocturnal birds aren’t the only things coming out at night. We also see the “real” Dr. Tyler, talking to “Fourth Kind” writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi on a set at Southern California’s Chapman University (Osunsanmi’s alma mater), recalling how her psychological study gradually unraveled when she got a little too close to The Truth.
That truth, as any “X-Filer” knows, is out there, but in “The Fourth Kind,” it’s loopy in a way that’s completely unintended. Osunsanmi, whose only other movie is the awful exploitation flick “The Cavern,” invests so much time and energy trying to convince the audience of the events’ veracity that he forgets to create even a rudimentary sense of tension. His split-screen divide between “reality” and “re-enactment” is almost as distracting as composer Atli Orvarsson’s boom-boom score.
The film manages to pull off a couple of jump-cut shockers, despite the disparity between Jovovich’s sleep-inducing performance and the wild overacting of the “real” Dr. Tyler. Supporting actors Elias Koteas and Will Patton clearly took their cues from the latter, though. One wonders again if their hammy dramatizations are supposed to function as commentary on the “Unsolved Mystery” School of Acting.
If so, the intent, like everything else in this half-baked mess, is lost in the slog.