Movie Review: The Fourth Kind (2009)
by Alan F. Zundel
“The Fourth Kind” is a very creepy story presented in a movie that does not live up to its potential. An alien abduction tale based on true events, whether you find it scary or laughable will probably depend on your opinion of the subject going into it.
Personally I am not sure what to think. The term “the fourth kind” comes from Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s famous classification system for UFO-related reports in which the first kind is a sighting, the second kind is physical evidence, the third kind is contact with aliens, and the fourth is an abduction.
It is easy to mock such abduction stories as bizarre beyond any rational consideration, but only if you have not looked into them. There may be tens of thousands of such cases, and the phenomena has been researched by serious professionals such as Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack as well as a host of amateurs of widely varying competence. The theory that extraterrestrial beings are coming to Earth in spacecraft that defy the laws of physics strains credibility, but clearly something weird is going on.
The movie is based on the story of Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist who was practicing in Nome, Alaska about fifteen years ago. Played by Milla Jovovich (and by Charlotte Milchard in recreations of taped interviews), Dr. Tyler has witnessed the murder of her husband by a mysterious intruder who broke into their home at night.
Although she is traumatized by the event, Dr. Tyler returns to her work with her patients, several of whom relate similar stories of waking up at night feeling afraid and seeing an owl looking at them through the bedroom window. She hypnotizes two of her patients to help them recall details of these experiences, but the patients panic as though seeing something terrifying. She has to wake them out of the trance to calm them.
When one of them murders his family and commits suicide, the police chief (Will Patton) begins to grill Dr. Tyler about her hypnotherapy practices. The other patient and his wife, however, concerned to get to the bottom of what is going on, persuade Dr. Tyler to hypnotize him again. This time she has a colleague (Elias Koteas) sit in and they both witness the patient’s extreme terror and subsequent description of strange intruders attacking him.
The story only gets weirder from there, as Dr. Tyler realizes that she herself has been abducted by aliens who speak the language of ancient Sumerians, as verified by an expert (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) who examines a tape recording of her abduction. The culmination of the events is when one of the characters is abducted and never returns.
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Terry Lee Robbins, “The Fourth Kind” did give me chills in a few of its more effective scenes and produced several obligatory jump-shocks. But it went overboard in its desire to remind you it was based on a true story and had the opposite effect of what was intended.
Actual audio and video recordings from the case were mixed in not only with recreations of the events, but recreations of the audio and video recordings, which put me on guard against fully trusting the filmmakers’ version of what transpired. It also made the beginning of the movie unnecessarily confusing, as you felt like you wanted to track which recordings were true and which were staged.
It did not help that the “real” Dr. Tyler in the recreated video interview (which was not the real Dr. Tyler but an actress, Charlotte Milchard) and Dr. Tyler as portrayed by Milla Jovovich looked absolutely nothing like each other. One had bug-eyes and lanky blonde hair, the other is a gorgeous former model and movie star. This comparison, often in side-by-side split frames, only served to remind me I was watching a movie.
All of this distanced me from the movie rather than helping with the “suspension of disbelief” needed to become emotionally engaged. It played like the low budget movie it is, relying on gimmicks rather than the drama to draw you in.
Ms. Jovovich does an adequate job in the role of Dr. Tyler, at first a bit lackluster but picking up energy as the story progresses. The other lead players wrestle with underwritten roles, but Corey Johnson and Enzo Cilenti make the most of their screen time as Dr. Tyler’s terrified patients.
In the end I couldn’t help but question Dr. Tyler’s use of hypnotherapy and how much of a role suggestion may have played in these events. The movie was clearly tilted toward alien abduction as the answer to the riddle of what was actually going on, and would have been more satisfying if it had presented a stronger case for an alternative scenario simply to fake even-handedness until delivering the coup de grâce.
The movie did pique my curiosity in the case, but I doubt there is a way to confirm what actually happened. With or without aliens, it is a disturbing tale.
If I do read up on it, it won’t be at nighttime.