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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Fourth Kind (The)

There’s a movie out about alien abductions called The Fourth Kind, as in one more than those Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I know a lot about this subject, having been abducted myself back when I was about nineteen. Okay, so the aliens who kidnapped me were a couple of cabin boys from a Lithuanian freighter that had docked along the East River, and it was a *tad* bit voluntary on my part, but I understand the pain of these folks from The Fourth Kind. Whether they’re from Eastern Europe or Alpha Centari, grabby hands poking at your no-no hole are all the same. 

 For those who are clamoring to actually see any of this type of personal space invasion The Fourth Kind is going to be a terrible disappointment. It has to be the first alien abduction movie to not feature any aliens and only one small abduction, and that takes place off-camera. I know what you are thinking, and, seriously, this sucks eggs. Even the schlockiest of crapola on the SyFy Channel will spring for a rubber mask with big eyes to give us a few (very, very few) chills. Instead, director and writer Olatunde Osunsanmi (WIthIN) has decided to turn The Fourth Kind into a faux quasi-documentary. This wouldn’t seem like such a big “bend-over” deal except that all the ads for the film make it look like this is going to be one huge scary-ass thriller. The previews show requisite creaky doors opening, a couple of close-ups of people screaming in horror, and quick cutaways of folks running through the darkness while the music shrieks like it was torn straight from the soundtrack of Psycho. If only. The only thing that made me want to run away was the snoozy script that left me biting the insides of my cheeks to stay awake through the whole thing. 

The story of The Fourth Kind is fairly simple: Psychologist Abbey Tyler (Milla Jovovich;Resident Evil: Extinction) has moved her family to Nome, Alaska after her husband’s recent death and quickly finds out that several of her patients are suffering from intense anxiety and paranoia as well as sharing a common memory of being stalked by a big white owl coming for them in the night. So she tapes these patients while hypnotized and what happens next is supposedly Blair Witch Project scary. The only problem with this is that people went into The Blair Witch Project without expecting to see an actual witch. People coming into The Fourth Kind want to see some honest-to-God fake aliens, and there are none to be seen. Complicating things even further isThe Fourth Kind’s allegation that the unseen entities terrorizing people are more than just aliens from outer space. It seems these critters speak ancient Sumerian, and in the small translatable bit of dialogue uttered by one of the “possessed” victims being taped the visitor identifies itself as God. Hmmm. So suddenly we jump from Close Encounters territory to shades of The Exorcist

One unusual element to The Fourth Kind is Osunsanmi’s decision to use a split-screen in various parts of the film and have his actors recreate the hypnotic sessions “real” patients, i.e., “characters” had with therapist Abbey Tyler while grainy footage of the (alleged) “actual” taped meetings run simultaneously. Ironically, it is the “actor” actors’ mouthing the identical dialogue as the so-called “real victims” that is more convincing than those in the film who purport to have been abducted. Obviously the “real” footage is as fake as the recreations, but it does help generate a sense of legitimate dread for those viewers who can’t help but be drawn in to the drama. 

It’s doubtful skeptics are the ones who will be filling theater seats for The Fourth Kind, so the movie relies on that already built-in audience willing to suspend its disbelief and go with the flow as presented by Osunsanmi and company. Unfortunately, the key role of the “real” Dr. Tyler is played by an unnamed actress who looks like she just stepped out of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. The perpetually vacant stare, her pasty-white face, stringy hair and never-ending flat affect are way over the top, making it hard to believe she could ever be a competent psychologist no matter how many times she’s been on the receiving end of an alien probe. Jovovich is more believable, and actually does a reasonable job convincing us that Dr. Tyler has the balls tom stand up to the local sheriff (Will Patton; The Canyon), whose basic job in the movie is to bully her and imply that he is a heartbeat away from arresting her for the murder of her late husband. 

Dr. Tyler’s involvement in the death of her husband Will (Julian Vergov; Fake Identity) is crucial to the bigger story. Was he killed by aliens who have invaded the Tyler home? Did Abbey kill him while under the influence of some otherworldly source? And what, if anything, do her kids know about the events of that night? Son Ronnie (Raphaël Coleman; It’s Alive) is a constant source of hostility and bitchiness which Abbey tends to ignore even if the audience can’t. While fifteen year old Coleman is effective playing a ten year old, “Ronnie” comes across as a punk in need of a swift kick (or anal probe) in the ass. Okay, so maybe he’s mad that his Dad is dead and he has an idea that Mom is responsible, but does he have to be such a shmendrik about it?
Elias Koteas (The Haunting in Connecticut) is also on hand, lurking through most of the picture as Abel Campos, a skeptical colleague of the late other Dr. Tyler. What he adds to the mix is a tip of the hat to those who might think that these proceeding are a load of crap. He reminds me of Ohio Representative John Boenner. He’s kind of an a-hole, but is still worth enduring just so you can have someone to kvetch about later. He’s as close to a villain as the movie gets, especially since we never get to actually see the invaders. 

The Fourth Kind is the only movie I’ve seen that opens with its star addressing the audience with "I'm actress Milla Jovovich and I will be portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler in the movie… What you are about to see is extremely disturbing." This alone is disconcerting, but what follows with the mixture of “real” (actually real fake) and cinematic is a clever conceit even if it ultimately falls apart by the end. The Fourth Kind tries very hard to make a case for alien abductions but it ends up being more about the smoke and mirrors of filmmaking. If you are planning to go to see The Fourth Kind for chills and thrills I’d recommend you try The Box instead. Now there is a real freak-out, and it’s playing right next door to The Fourth Kind at both the Essex Cinemas and the Cumberland 12.

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