Saturday, November 07, 2009

THE FOURTH KIND—Peter Galvin's Review

Another week, another "found footage" horror film.

The Fourth Kind claims only half of its run-time is found footage, the rest is introduced by actress Mila Jovovich as elaborate dramatizations of real events that occurred in Nome, Alaska. I am always a bit wary when a film's tagline is "Based on a true story", but setting aside questions of legitimacy, I recognize that it was a risky endeavor to construct a movie from equal parts VHS tape and America's Most Wanted re-enactment.

In the secluded town of Nome, Jovovich does indeed play a real person, Abigail Taylor, a small-time therapist who recently lost her husband in an unsolved murder. Her husband, who had also been a therapist, was investigating a pattern in his patients suffering from insomnia and bad dreams, and Abigail is convinced that—by finishing his work—she can somehow understand his death. She begins by videotaping the sessions with her patients as they are put under hypnosis, and discovers that they all remember the same thing—waking up in the middle of the night with a big white owl sitting outside their window.

What it all means I won't divulge here, but I think the trailers are keen on making it clear that this is a film about alien abduction.

While Abigail unravels the mystery of the owl, director Olatunde Osunsanmi constantly switches back and forth between dramatization and purportedly real recorded footage, each time including captions to delineate the real people from the actors. It's obviously a device that has greatly enamored the filmmaker, but what begins as a novelty quickly becomes a distraction—at times up to four different points-of-view crowd the screen at once. Towards the end, Osunsanmi manages to confine the moments of videotape to key "scare" moments, relying on the shoddiness of the footage to lend an eerie authenticity to otherwise familiar moments, but disassociating the audience with fuzzy VCR-roll isn't the same as actually developing suspense.

Even as I decry it as a distracting gimmick, the juxtaposition of fact and fabrication remains the most interesting aspect of the film. It's wildly apparent that the filmmakers have put all their faith in the movie's dual footage premise at the expense of a story, and The Fourth Kind delivers an alien abduction experience that is about as rip-roaring as a late era X-Files episode—you get the feeling everyone is just going through the motions.

Is it real, is it fake? I suppose I could add the absence of a satisfying conclusion to the film's narrative offenses, but you've probably already figured out that a supposedly true film about alien abduction isn't going to contain proof of extraterrestrial life or you'd have heard about it by now.

Cross-published on
Ornery-Cosby and Twitch.

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