It feels like a long time since we’ve seen a good alien abduction story. Such things were all the rage in the 90s with The X-Files leading the way. Of course, a lot of that was tied with a healthy distrust of government in the United States and with no Vietnam or Cold War or nuclear proliferation to volley accusations of collusions with nefarious forces at the government, so called “Greys” from outer space seemed as good a bad guy as any. Post 9/11 though, such ideas seemed to return to the fringe. With actual ineptitude in places like Iraq and New Orleans, the idea of the government keeping nocturnal visits from flying saucers a secret seemed even more implausible than the aliens themselves.
In The Fourth Kind, director Olatunde Osunsanmi welcomes back good, old fashioned 90s alien paranoia, which, along with the resurrected V on TV, shows us the real threat doesn’t come from forces on Earth, but from the sky. Impossible, you say. Well, Osunsanmi has archival evidence to back up the assertions of Abigail Tyler, a psychiatrist in Nome, Alaska, that through the course of treating sleep disorder patients discovers that what’s keeping them up is not the inner pain of their own psyches, but the outer pain of repeated alien probing. But don’t take Osunsanmi’s word for it. He put clips of actual interviews and video documentation right in the movie.
Kind of clever, I’ll admit, but the thing feels like a gigantic segment of Unsolved Mysteries. Of course, as I’ve stated before, I enjoy Unsolved Mysteries, but in watching The Fourth Kind it seemed less like a movie and more like a disgruntled grad school thesis that got millions of dollars for dramatic recreation when drummed out of academia. Not helping things is that producers cast Milla Jovovich to play Tyler, because nothing goes against the realism of the film like seeing the former-model and the woman she’s portraying paired up in split-screen. The Jovovich Tyler is even better dressed than the real life one, saying that once again even when they’re trying to be “real,” Hollywood still likes to set dress.
Still, the notion of combining what’s real and what’s dramatized is an interesting one, but it unfortunately doesn’t allow the film to take any dramatic leaps. They’re so busy preserving the aesthetic of “what really happened” that nothing really happens. It begs the question that if realism is what ye seek, then why not go documentary about this? So it’s not quite doc and it’s not quite docudrama. It’s trapped in a world of its own accord with seemingly lofty ambitions and repeated notes that what’s being presented are facts and it is up to we the viewers to reach our own conclusions. It’s the movie version of the old Fox News chestnut: We report, you decide. And we all know that neither of those things were done very well.
I also question just how much the dramatized material is “real,” so many of the characters feel two-dimensional and melodramatic. Elias Koteas plays one of Tyler’s fellow shrinks Dr. “Abel Campos” and he spends all his time trying to “Scully” his way out of what’s right in front of him, Will Patton plays “Sheriff August” with all the ignorant hayseed bluster he can muster and Hakeem Kae-Kazim plays some kind of ancient studies prof who shovels the old “alien astronaut” theory on everyone. I think the material is good, but the confusing mishmash of intents and styles is bizarre to deal with. I don’t think anyone out there is going to go “Well now I’m going to have to rethink this whole alien abduction thing” after seeing The Fourth Kind. It’s just another Unsolved Mystery to me. Cue the spooky music.