The Fourth Kind (2009)

(On cable TV, July 2011) As someone who sees far too many movies in the first place (and once vowed to write something up for every single one of them), I’m probably friendlier toward straight-up experimentation than most.  So never mind when writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi claims that The Fourth Kind is all based on real events or when the film’s marketing takes pleasure in polluting the information space: I’m more interested in the way the film skips and hops in-between levels of fiction, splitting its screen four-way and trying everything it can think of to appeal to documentary viewing protocols.  The fun begins in the very first moment of the film, as Milla Jovovich gamely tells us she’s a movie star playing someone else.  From that moment on, we cut between putative archival material (featuring director Osunsanmi interviewing “the real Abigail Tyler”, who’s really Charlotte Milchard in an uncredited role) and a more conventional dramatic rendition of events with a very small cast led by Jovovich, Will Patton and Elias Koteas.  The Fourth Kind has a wobbly fourth wall, directly asking its audience to believe.  As interesting as it can be to see two levels of fiction playing off each other (sometimes in similar camera angles shown side-to-side), it’s an experiment that shoots itself in the foot in constantly reminding us about the level of fakery of the more conventionally-shot segments, and then shoots itself again in the other foot when we remind ourselves that even the pseudo-documentary footage is just as fake.  Oh, it’s entertaining itself to see a film self-destruct in this fashion and then hobble around screaming (and oh boy, is there a lot of screaming in The Fourth Kind) as it falls apart.  (There’s so much hand-held wobble that even the split-screen itself moves around, earning a snicker as if the film itself couldn’t decide which footage to show.)  But the film’s interest has little to do with its effectiveness as a horror film, because we’re left with a muddle of UFOs, Summerian myth, distorted voices and unexplained events.  In its lack of ultimate release, The Fourth Kind is once again trading satisfaction for interest: while it’s unusual to see a horror film hold on so steadfastly to audience satisfaction denial, it doesn’t make it any better from a narrative viewpoint, and it sure looks as if the film doesn’t deliver a conclusion by lack of imagination or guts rather than purposeful enigma.  It amounts to a film that jaded horror fans may appreciate for what it attempts to do rather than what it achieves.

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