The Fourth Kind
It’s an actual case - of silliness
The big news about “The Fourth Kind’’ is that its supernatural horror is based on real events. This is true in the same way that Pamela Anderson’s chest is based on real breasts. In the opening scene, a blurry Milla Jovovich walks into focus and attempts to explain. “I am actress Milla Jovovich,’’ she says, as the camera jogs around her. After mentioning that her movie was taken from an actual case, she then lets us know that she’ll be playing Dr. Abigail Tyler, an actual psychologist in Alaska, who, while interviewing a rash of people claiming to have been abducted by aliens, winds up abducted herself. When you think of the money you left at the box office, you’ll know how she feels.
“Please be advised,’’ she goes on, “that some of what you’re about to see’’ - pause - “is extremely disturbing.’’ Jovovich is not wrong. Arriving at a horror movie and getting this kind of disclaimer is like showing up at the airport and having the pilot tell you the plane goes up really high. Alas, “The Fourth Kind’’ doesn’t build, instill, or maintain an audience’s fear. It just spends 98 minutes trying to prove that what you’re watching actually happened.
The screen occasionally splits in half or into quadrants. In one, Jovovich acts. In another, footage plays of the seemingly drugged Dr. Tyler, droning on to the movie’s writer and director, Olatunde Osunsanmi. (These scenes look like the sort of infomercials the con man Kevin Trudeau usually makes.) Sometimes Jovovich’s patient interviews are juxtaposed beside Dr. Tyler’s. So instead of having one perfectly terrible movie, we now have two. Eventually, a plot materializes, although I’m not sure what it is. But it entails close-ups of moving mouths, an owl’s eye, the Bible, stone etchings, and the spinning wheels of audiocassettes. The actor Will Patton does his “Idiot’s Guide to Robert Duvall,’’ playing the sort of sheriff who barks and bleats and doesn’t believe a word of anything. Where’s his abduction?
When a new actor arrives, the movie tells us so. To introduce Jovovich’s hypnotherapist, the words “Elias Koteas as’’ appear on the screen. In case we don’t speak gibberish, subtitles pop up. For one loud, wordless excerpt from one of Tyler’s patient interviews, the subtitles provide a helpful translation: “[screams].’’ In two climactic scenes, the screen goes fuzzy. For over a minute what we’re watching is basically a television on the fritz. The only place that’s ever been frightening is in the privacy of your living room.
“The Fourth Kind’’ marks a return to a sort of meta-horror movie in which our sense of terror stems from the possibility that what we’re watching really happened. Interestingly, the best way to convey that authentically is through the kind of amateurism that says your friend just e-mailed this to you. The reason “The Blair Witch Project,’’ “Cloverfield,’’ and “Quarantine’’ caught on was because they were convincing: You could have made any of them. “Paranormal Activity’’ is the latest of this sort of faux-incompetent moviemaking to lure a steady audience.
The budget isn’t all that’s cheap about “Paranormal Activity’’ - the ending is eye-rollingly desperate. But its long takes, extended silences, and use of rhythm demonstrate a rare, reassuring belief in an audience’s patience. Its success is all the more exciting given the hackwork that so consistently is permitted to stand for moviemaking, even by the standards of schlock. “The Fourth Kind’’ leans on a trendy gimmick while following the old formula of a hundred cuts per minute plus a score that never sleeps.
Sensing that his filmmaking leaves much to be desired, Osunsanmi appears on camera at the end to insist, again, that what we’ve seen is true. Hardly. The “actual events’’ involved the unsolved disappearance of poor, possibly alcoholic native Alaskans, details that would make for an altogether different sort of horror movie. Even so, the director mangles the pact filmmakers forge with an audience regarding the suspension of disbelief. When a movie has to resort to reiterating its realness, it’s not science fiction anymore. It’s a lie.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.