Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Fourth Kind (2009)

Fear 1/5
Gore 0/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 2/5

This movie is a confusing mess that requires the viewer to accept way too much and ask no questions - kind of like Catholicism. You've probably seen the trailer and know the shtick, but if not here it is: Supposedly, the entire film is true, based on actual footage and interviews of various residents of Nome, AK who have all experience a "close encounter of the 4th kind" - alien abduction. The film pushes this concept to it's extreme by including the actual footage in the film, often side by side on a split screen.

My interest in alien abduction conspiracies peaked in the late 1980's when I read Whitley Strieber's Communion. It was my senior year in high school and it freaked me the fuck out. But I was 18 years old and I am now 38 years old. Since then my interest in the subject has declined to the point that it simply doesn't interest me PERIOD. So, even though the trailer gave me a couple moments of spookiness, I anticipated that it would, ultimately be a dud.

But it isn't quite a dud, nor is it particularly good and here's why - it can't make up it's mind on what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a fake documentary ala Blair Witch or is it a dramatization of real events ala take-your-pick? The film starts with Mila Jovawhatever walking up to the camera and explaining that the movie is based on real events and that real footage is used. She also warns that the real footage may be disturbing. The rest of the film is a mixture of actors portraying the real people and the real people captured on film - and like I said, it's often split on the screen so that (for example) Mila Jovawhatever will be saying the exact same thing as the psychologist she is portraying, in the same cadence and rhythm.

So first question - what's the point here? What is the artistic statement in having this happen? Is it to prove to the audience that Jovawhatever is a decent actress? Is it to remind us that the dramatized parts of the film are not dramatized at all, just recreation? And if so, what's the point?

How about this - why not make it a full on documentary or a full on dramatization? The only thing I got out of having this mixture on screen is a huge sense of awareness that I was watching actors acting and following a script. I was never, for one second, allowed to sit back and take it all in because of the constant reminder that this was "all based on fact - here, we'll prove it!"

Now, format and style aside, there is the question of whether or not anything on the screen is real or not. My opinion is that ALL of it was scripted, acted and dramatized. Case in point - SPOILER ALERT - there is a scene where a guy shoots his family and then himself in the head. The scene is, supposedly, actual footage (blurred out at the gory parts) that was filmed from one of the police cruisers at the scene. I highly doubt that the MPAA would allow footage of that sort to be used in a film whose sole purpose is to entertain. I doubt that the citizens of Nome would allow it, that the relatives of the family members would allow it, etc. etc. It just doesn't add up.

Then there is the scene where -SPOILER ALERT AGAIN- the doctor is "possessed" by the Sumerian speaking aliens who start barking out scary sounding, death metal vocalizations about how they are God. The stretchy mouth that the doctor gets has been used recently in numerous cheapo horror films and simply and utterly looks like CGI.

Obviously, I am not buying the reality portion of the film. There are numerous things in the film, errors in continuity, dialogue, storylines, that are far to convenient and scripted for me to believe any of it. This isn't to say that I did not buy into the film because I am not a believer in alien abduction (which I am not) but, rather, because the execution was so botched and self-aware that I simply couldn't have bought into any story they presented to me as true. Had it been either a straight documentary or a straight dramatization, this could have been terrifying.

That said, I have to admit that there were some scenes that were pretty freaky and scared me a bit - sounds captured on tape, some of the "real" video footage, and the general idea of people being so terrified by something that they would knowingly and consciously choose to blow their brains out rather than face up to it. That feeling of total helplessness is genuinely scary.

So - verdict? A solid and resounding "meh". Oh and by the way - it's all fucking fake.

- Complaint Dept


I've avoided this film based on Complaint Dept.'s review along with a few others. But after reading a pretty solid one from Mr. Johnny Boots over at Freddy in Space, I decided to give it a shot. I won't give a recap as Complaint Dept. does that above. What I will say is that this film has a few things working for it which makes it a worthwhile watch.

I happened to like the aliens being presented with a sort of god-like quality. I found it to be a particularly interesting concept. It wasn't done in a very heavy handed way but rather they were shown to be a manipulative force, taking on the appearance of some higher being in order to get you to submit to their will. And the Sumerian babblings heightened this concept and made for some creepy moments.

The other thing I enjoyed is that it doesn't really play into the alien idea all that much. What I mean by that is the word 'alien' is used only once. Of course, as the viewer, you know that that eventual conclusion will be drawn. But the fact that no one is running around talking about eggheaded beings with ray guns or hubcap shaped saucers floating in the air is key in creating drama and tension. Any combination of these elements could have lead to this film devolving into b-movie schlocky-ness. So kudos to the filmmakers for keeping some air of 'mystery.'

The pairing of the captured 'real' life events with the actors portraying the victims and showing their reactions right alongside each other was the most distracting element to the film. When the 'captured' footage was shown and you had Milla Jovawhatever acting alongside, the reactions and expressions never matched up. This misstep also occured in other scenes pairing the 'footage' next to the actors onscreen.

All in all, the film is definitely worth a watch. A couple of decent scares and as mentioned, from a conceptual standpoint, there are some interesting things going on. But The Fourth Kind is not a film I will revisit anytime soon.

Cortez the Killer


Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, this movie basically sucks a lot of crap. I'd love it if someone could make a kick-ass scary alien movie but clearly The 4th Kind isn't it.

Emily said...

The first sentence of this review is probably one of the greatest sentences I've ever read.

Matt-suzaka said...

I still would like to eventually check it out, mostly because I am a sucker for alien films and enjoy even the less than stellar ones, like Communion, for example.

Still, I do agree with Jeff, I wish there was a real kick ass movie about realistic (?!) aliens that has no exploding buildings or Will Smith in it. Fire in the Sky would maybe be the closest, and while I love that film, it is pretty flawed.