Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Movie Review: "The Fourth Kind" by David Pretty

There's a line in a song by Modest Mouse that goes: "A fake Jamaican took every last dime with that scam" / "It was worth it just to learn some sleight-of-hand."  Songwriter Isaac Brock is apparently a lot more forgiving then I am.  If The Fourth Kind was a fraudulent Caribbean grifter I'd find the bastard and chuck him down the nearest flight of steps.  This film pulled me in, thrilled me and then pissed me off when I caught it trying to straighten the "sucker" sign on my back.

The film posits that the town of Nome, Alaska has been ground zero for a series of mysterious disappearances since the 1960's.  The story begins with a straight-faced Milla Jovovich telling as that we're about to witness a "very disturbing" expose based on an "actual case study", using "never before seen archival footage" and a series of "dramatic re-enactments" to fill in the narrative.  Taken at face value, The Fourth Kind could have been the greatest episode of Unsolved Mysteries EVAR.

After this intriguing premise we're witness to a genuine-looking interview recorded in 2002 at Chapman University between clinical psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler and the film's director Olatunde Osunsanmi.  She begins by recounting the mysterious and violent death of her husband who was also a trained psychologist.  After this atmospheric and creepy prologue, the story begins in earnest and Milla re-appears to assume the role of "Dr. Tyler" for the dramatizations. 

In light of her husband's tragic demise, Dr. Tyler is depicted as damaged goods who struggles to keep what remains of her family intact.  Despite her challenges, she throws herself back into her work and begins seeing some of her husband's former patients.  After a series of just-quirky-enough-to-be-real details leads the audience to believe that what they're watching is indeed factual, the film's producers start layering on the chills.  Abigail is unnerved when she discovers that an inordinate amount of Nome's resident are suffering from sleep deprivation and have experienced eerily similar, David Lynchian-style dreams involving owls, bedroom doors creaking open and traumatic home invasions.

After one patient confronts the buried memories via hypnosis the emerging trauma sends him over the deep end and he kills his wife and kids at gunpoint later that same evening.  Alarmingly, we shown footage of this, supposedly recovered from a police cruiser dash camera and "edited" for propriety. The creep factor is amped up even more when Abigail leaves her tape recorder running one night and it captures some disturbing audio which is sure to send hackles down even the most jaded spine.

This perfect storm of creepiness continues to percolate after Abigail uses hypnosis to help another encounter victim recall the appearance of their assailant.  The resulting jump-scare is one of the first to suck me in since I began watching horror films nearly thirty years ago.  So far, so good, huh?

Unfortunately The Fourth Kind's scares aren't built to last.  At the mid-way point, the unconscious, analytical and skeptical part of the brain kicks in and begins asking a flood of nagging questions.  BE WARNED: THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!  Most immediately, the recurring "interview footage" starts to resemble a fraudulent performance.  Then you begin to wonder why people keep going back to a psychologist who's patients habitually commit suicide, murder their families or, at the very least, are left in a vegetative mental state after a session.  Picking Milla Jovovich to play a hottie version of the "real" Dr. Tyler also comes off as a ridiculously contrived.

To make matters worse, whenever anything vaguely odd happens, the video conveniently breaks up into a sea of distortion. I can understand this happening if a UFO was flying overhead, but why would this occur during the hypnosis sessions?  In another lazy scripted convenience, two perfectly credible witnesses inexplicably sell Abigail down the river by refusing to corroborate her story, even when she's in dire need of help.  By the mid-way point in the film, things stop making sense and the entire edifice crumbles.  

If you insist on believing in this Easter Bunny of a film, do not make the mistake of watching the DVD's deleted scenes.  After you hear an assistant director yell "ACTION!" at the start of the supposedly "real" cop car dash camera video the illusion will immediately implode.  Indeed, the movie's sole intent is make the audience feel like a bunch of naive dupes.  Anyone who buys into the producer's claims that is "a real case study" is bound to feel pretty pissed off at the end. 

Unlike The Blair Witch Project, where the illusion was generated by ambiguous promotional gimmicks, The Fourth Kind is built entirely around subterfuge.  The director, the cast and the producers all go out of their way to tell us that every scene is supported by "archival footage" but we're free to "make up our own minds" about its veracity.  This is particularly galling since the "Abigail Tyler" in the interview footage has long-since been outed as British actress Charlotte Milchard.

Unfortunately, the producers took what could have been a creepy and subtle little Paranormal Activity-type experience and turned in a three card monte scam.  As a result, The Fourth Kind is nothing but an inconsequential cinematic non-entity: a hoax so transparent you can even see the strings. 

Tilt: down.

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