Mark Reviews Movies

THE FOURTH KIND

1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Corey Johnson, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Daphne Alexander, Enzo Cilenti, Alisha Seaton

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 11/6/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik

A lot of nothing happens in The Fourth Kind, a supposedly based-on-truth recreation of mysterious events in the remote town of Nome, Alaska, where lots of people disappear or kill themselves. It takes a long time for first-time writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi to reveal even that pretty important bit of information, and when he does, it's by having characters intone throwaway lines like, "It's the second suicide in a couple months," or very lately having the main character tell us that her kin's disappearance is one of many in the town's history.

We don't know this stuff going into the story, so we don't know what the point of the whole thing is. We're just sitting and waiting for the story to start, and by the end of the movie, we're still waiting.

Instead of actually telling a story, Osunsanmi compiles a bunch of "real" footage of the "actual" participants and intercuts them with the "dramatization." This is set up at the very front end by actress Milla Jovovich, who introduces herself as actress Milla Jovovich and tells us she's playing psychiatrist Dr. Abigail Tyler, which Osunsanmi later iterates by putting text underneath Jovovich in her first appearance in the movie proper that says "Milla Jovovich as Dr. Abigail Tyler."

It's redundant, yes, and there's plenty more of it to go around. Four characters are introduced likewise in the movie: Tyler's psychiatrist (Elias Koteas), the town sheriff (Will Patton), and a scholar in ancient languages (Hakeem Kae-Kazim)—all of whom are "aliases." I suppose none of the other characters or actors are important enough in Osunsanmi's eyes to warrant similar treatment.

The movie stops dead in its already tedious tracks in these moments and many others like it. While Tyler has hypnosis sessions with her patients, all of whom are having strange visions of a white owl keeping them awake at night, "actual" footage of the real therapy sessions appears on a split screen or is forcibly cut into the movie, leading to overlapping dialogue and a complete disconnect from whatever narrative point Osunsanmi is trying to get across.

All of these videos and later audio recordings are subtitled with "actual video" or "actual audio," the subject, and the date of taping, as if we buy that so much "found" footage is available to the filmmakers, and no one thought to assemble it in documentary form instead of having actors recreate it.

The gimmick is at first odd then annoying then downright infuriating because it makes no sense and hinders our understanding and following of what is a fundamentally simple plot. Psychiatrist loses her psychiatrist husband in what she remembers as a murder and takes up her husband's work on strange happenings in the town, later having strange things happen to her.

It's that easy, but Osunsanmi isn't content with just telling a story. He just has to have the movie strut and preen with the gimmick, and as a result, he never bothers to tell the story.

The "real" Dr. Tyler shows up in clips from an interview session, narrating what's happening on screen. When Dr. Tyler says she felt guilty about how after one of sessions her patient killed his family and himself, Jovovich as Tyler sits on the bed looking guilty and restless. Of course, during these voice-overs, a title appears telling us this is an "Interview with Dr. Abigail Tyler," and every time the "real" Tyler appears on screen, there's a subtitle with her name on it, as though we might forget who she is after the fiftieth time the title appears.

The murder-suicide is captured on a police dashboard camera, and there's a dizzying ADD-split-screen between the "found" footage, recreations of the footage, and close-ups of the actors doing the recreating. What are we supposed to gather from all of this anyway?

The actors seem equally lost, because they're often-times doing the exact thing a "real person" in "real" footage is doing at precisely the same time on screen. Maybe all of it has something to do with the sheriff's late statement about "the line between fiction and fact," but Patton, like the rest, is phoning it in, giving a particularly hammy performance as the pissed-off sheriff because, well, cops are always mad in movies like this, right?

The climax (If you can call it that) has a distorted image on the left side, text transcriptions of what's being said on the right, and a lot of yelling coming off the soundtrack, and the whole movie has something to do with alien abduction. We find that out really, really late into The Fourth Kind as well, and even then, we still don't know what the movie is doing.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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