Similar to The Blair Witch Project and the recent Paranormal Activity, 2009’s The Fourth Kind is a faux docudrama which depicts unnerving happenings through supposedly “authentic” footage. However, whereas Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity dealt with the realm of the supernatural, The Fourth Kind uses the coveted technique to tell the story of a supposedly real alien abduction. While not the first movie to use the suggestion of truth in order to sell an exhaustively fictional tale, The Fourth Kind is far more aggressive; frequently claiming through subtitles and to-camera asides that the narrative is word-for-word true. All the chutzpah promises a skin-crawling motion picture, yet, for all the hot air it generates, the movie is ineffective more often than not, and its “hook” is actually its greatest detraction.
Following a personal introduction by Milla Jovovich which promises that disturbing documentary footage is in store, the film focuses on the “real” and the reel Dr. Abigail Tyler (played by Jovovich during re-enactments) as she recounts her tale of alleged alien abduction. A psychologist in the Alaskan town of Nome, Abby employs hypnosis to help her patients recall events that they’ve blocked out, but soon realises a lot of them are recounting the same scenario. She comes to believe that these people are the victim of alien abduction and experimentation, and soon finds herself to be the latest target of these extraterrestrials.
As passionate a hoax as it may be, The Fourth Kind is still a hoax – it could even be considered entertainment fraud. That said, if you had no prior knowledge of the movie before watching it, and believed the story to be true as we’re told, chances are you’d find it horrific and satisfying. And, to the credit of the filmmakers, some of the “real” footage manages to keep you on the fence as to whether it’s genuine or not, even if you’ve heard it’s fake. Heck, it may cause you to conduct days of research. The problem is that the filmmakers spent so much time making the thing seem real that basic narrative requirements are neglected, such as character development and plot momentum. And once you’re aware it isn’t real, you might choose to focus on the ridiculousness of the happenings that debunk its veracity, such as the wild-eyed Nome sheriff (Patton) comingthis close to beating the hell out of Abby in her own home over claims of alien abduction, even though one of his own officers witnessed something in the sky and went on record saying so. The Fourth Kind is the type of film that would work better as a television movie or a Discovery Channel event. It could have also worked if a more conventional approach had been employed.
Director Olatunde Osunsanmi presents many scenes as “recreations” with professional actors assuming the identities of their counterparts. In an attempt to enhance the illusion, split-screen sequences are utilised which depict the “documentary” footage alongside these recreations. This may sound like an intriguing idea in theory, but in practise it’s utterly disastrous. Since the most cursory Googling will quickly reveal the “real” footage is in fact fabricated, it means viewers are essentially being asked to watch a low-budget horror movie and its glossier remake at the same time. Added to this, all hope of character identification and genuine involvement in the story is jettisoned on account of this approach. See, films like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity succeeded because they’re entirely comprised of the “real” footage, and it’s therefore easier to accept the illusion. The consequence of mixing “real” footage with traditional filmmaking techniques is a heavily contrived production. If the “authentic” footage and recordings are at the director’s disposal, why not use them whenever possible and fill in the blanks using titles or the actors when necessary? Why not construct the narrative conventionally, complete with character development, and use the “authentic” footage and recordings sparingly? Better yet, why not abort the whole gimmick?
The title of The Fourth Kind is a reference to J. Allen Hynek’s four categorisations of alien encounters. In accordance with Hynek’s theories, the first kind = sighting, the second kind = evidence, the third kind = contact, and the fourth kind = abduction (Steven Spielberg referenced these categorisations back in the ’70s with Close Encounters of the Third Kind). While the title of The Fourth Kind may spark interest with UFO enthusiasts, the product is too underwhelming to recommend. There are a few genuinely creepy sequences and images sprinkled throughout the film’s runtime, but the material is too tame to generate any memorable horror (consider the PG-13 rating), and too contrived to work on a dramatic level.