Published Nov 05, 2009Following a series of unexplained killings and disappearances, Dr. Abbey Tyler, a psychologist in Nome, Alaska (Mila Jovovich, a little too callow and glam to be entirely credible) begins to notice some odd coincidences and synchronicities cropping up amongst her patients. Memory lapses, recurring visions of an eerie, oddly large-eyed peeping tom owl and ultimately, a murder-suicide spree by a troubled patient who wigs out during hypnotherapy convince her that something other than garden-variety weirdness is afoot.
Believing that she's somehow at the centre of things, and against the advice of her mentor (Elias Koteas) and an aggressively befuddled local sheriff (Will Patton) — collectively fulfilling the Dana Scully nay-saying sceptic's role — Tyler eventually submits to hypnosis, in the process unlocking a Pandora's box of repressed torment that finally promises a pay-off on the Spielberg-ian echoes of the title.
The Fourth Kind's central, awkwardly-executed conceit — portentously announced by Jovovic, as herself, at the outset — is that the events and characters depicted are real and supported by "actual" documentary footage and audio, which the filmmakers liberally intercut, or display in split screen, with the dramatic recreations. But all this showy cutting and pasting is nonsensical and ultimately self-defeating, functioning principally to distract the audience by continually begging the question of why the director didn't just go all-in with a full-on (and trendy) mock documentary.
Worse, the good burghers of Nome have been consigned to a parallel universe where the X-Files, Close Encounters, Whitley Strieber's books and a generation's worth of anal probe jokes seem never to have happened. So cue a good hour of po-faced confusion and glacially paced, heavy-handed foreshadowing before the requisite Chariots of the Gods-parroting academic boffin drops by to hip the characters to the peril that's been apparent to the jaded, increasingly impatient audience since midway through the opening credits.
But with this groundwork finally laid, it must surely be time (we tell ourselves) for the celestial rubber to meet the terrestrial road. But at third reel crunch time, the filmmakers inexplicably (or not) get a sudden case of the yips, and all the climactic "archival" footage showing actual "fourth kind" encounters (hint: abduction) comes over all blurry, indistinct and unreadable.
Willing only to tiptoe right up to, but not cross, that borderline where truthiness becomes belly laugh, The Fourth Kind skulks off in a haze of implication and portent, leaving us with a painful case of E.T. interruptus, a 13-dollar hole in the wallet and an uncomfortable sense of shame at the credulousness of the movie-going portion of our species. (Maple)