Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Fourth Kind (2009) - Movie Review - 5/10

Definitely Not Close Encounters

In Nome, Alaska, psychiatrist Abigail Tyler, played by Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fifth Element, Ultraviolet), begins to discover strangely similar memories in some of her patients. It is not long before hypnotic regression reveals some frightening events that ultimately lead to Abigail and her family becoming more embroiled in the terrifying occurrences than they could ever wish to be.

The Fourth Kind introduces itself as a tale based on actual events, including a mix of supposedly real footage, interspersed with actors portraying the events that occurred off camera. If this fact had indeed been true, it would have leant the film an unsettling atmosphere by its conclusion.

Unfortunately the evidence (and the fact that the film takes things down a less believable route than expected) implies it is all fictional. That in itself is not a bad thing, but where a story without a satisfying resolution is an acceptably fascinating scenario when dealing with events based on fact, it ceases to be anywhere near as satisfying when the story is so obviously false. It yearns for some kind of conclusion, some kind of coherence to the plot. Articles imply that the few websites that corroborate the existence of Abigail Tyler, were in fact set up on the same dates, that also coincide with the production of the film. They also lack other information such as contact details, that legitimate sites would be expected to have. There were indeed disappearances in the town of Nome over a certain period, however authorities initially put them down to the work of a serial killer. Later FBI investigations maintained that the disappearances were more likely the result of drunken accidents, and people being caught in the generally harsh environment. It is not outside the realms of possibility to believe a 'cover-up' of some nature could have occurred, or simply authorities ignoring other extreme facts, but unfortunately everything points to the story of The Fourth Kind being utterly fictional and using those disappearances simply as a jumping off point.

On the plus side, Milla Jovovich plays her part well, and proves once again that she can act in serious films as well as adventurous action packed ones. She's one of the few saving graces in the film, as your empathy with her plight is what keeps you watching. It's a shame that she's somewhat wasted.

The filming style of The Fourth Kind is somewhat reminiscent of The Mothman Prophecies in places, most especially in its scene-setting long shots. Although not quite on the same level, some of the photography is quite stunning. The integration of the supposedly 'real' footage is also done rather interestingly, and avoids the 'shaky cam' use that often mars other 'reality' style films (e.g. The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield). In fact it opts for the complete opposite, which is appropriate to its supposed source, of the camera being locked down, such as on a tripod in the character's office or mounted in a police car. The atmosphere builds up suitably until the first hypnotic regression, during which one of Abigail's patients abreacts when remembering certain events. The fear and terror that is shown by the patient creates a genuinely creepy and unsettling atmosphere. Unfortunately it is all downhill from there. The reactions of later patients become over-the-top and unbelievable, and the only other potentially effective moment is Abigail's unexpected dictaphone replay (I won't give anything away by saying more).

The other major problem with the story is that it doesn't seem to know which tack it wishes to take in relation to events. The title of the film, and other references indicate that this is about alien abduction. However later events, and the lack of any visual recreation of remembered abductions, create a distinctly supernatural tone that is at odds with the alien angle, and the well known established lore of 'genuine' alien abduction cases.

From an interesting premise that was rather promising, whether true or false, The Fourth Kind dissolves into an incoherent mish-mash that doesn't know what it wants to say or do. As it progresses, it even occasionally feels like a film made for TV rather than the big screen. Ultimately it makes for interesting viewing, but nothing more. Prepare to be disappointed unless you view it with very low expectations.

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