Both on screen and off, The Fourth Kind goes to fairly impressive lengths to really scare the crap out of you. And, at times, it succeeds. Unfortunately, it also came out 11 years too late to be as groundbreaking and frightening as it was probably intended to be. Outside context might not be as relevant in a theatrical review but, being as this is a Blu-ray review, the problems this supposed sci-fi blend of documentary and reenactment has are magnified exponentially. The keys to the mystery are literally at your fingertips in a home viewing experience. We’ll explain in detail after the jump.
This horror/thriller begins with Milla Jovovich as…Milla Jovovich. She talks directly to the audience letting them know the film they’re about to watch is completely based on a factual basis, including actual video and audio, and that much of what you’ll see is “extremely disturbing.” We then meet the real person who Jovovich is playing, Dr. Abbey Tyler, who is being interviewed by the film’s actual director, Olatunde Osunsanmi. From there, we get a split screen of the real Dr. Tyler and Jovovich’s portrayal, layering and blending the audio between the two. Since we are used to watching either a documentary or a fiction film, this mixture of the two in an almost “24” esque homage is very confusing. What’s real? What isn’t? These are the issues you’ll encounter throughout the rest of The Fourth Kind.
Real Dr. Tyler is retelling the story that Jovovich is dramatizing, of how she tried to get to the bottom of why several of her patients in Nome, Alaska were experiencing the same sleep deprivation patterns. The episodes get more and more intense until it’s revealed that these patients might be being abducted by aliens, hence the Spielbergian title.
Though the film drags for much of its first 50 minutes, punctuated with a few good jump scares, it picks up significantly after that. We get some legitimately disturbing scenes, both real and staged, which lead the audience to an open, but thought provoking, ending.
On it own The Fourth Kind is a mediocre, but effective, thriller. It was effective enough that, after sitting through the credits, I immediately whipped out my smart phone to see what was real and what wasn’t.
And that’s where the whole film takes a turn for the worst.
In 1999, filmmakers and Hollywood marketers did a fantastic job convincing the audience that The Blair Witch Project might be real. And, for a while, the ruse worked because information wasn’t as immediately accessible as it is in 2010. It took everyone a little while to realize that the people in the movie weren’t really dead, they were actors appearing on late night television. With Blair Witch, we were still a few years out from the Google Age where one article or photo could blow the whole elaborate charade. Unfortunately, The Fourth Kind was released in the present, so, a quick Google search and every single thing that makes the film unique and interesting tumbles like a ton of cards. Spoiler alert – even the “real” footage is totally fake.
Granted – any information digested AFTER watching a film should not play into a review of the movie itself. And if this was strictly a theatrical review, I wouldn’t make a point of it. But this is a Blu-ray review and when a Blu-ray of a “actual event” has only TWO extra features on it, you know there’s a problem. Think of documentary DVDs you may own and the LOADS of special features on them to expand your knowledge. The Fourth Kind has no commentary, no documentaries, no print articles or interviews. There’s only D-Box compatibility and 23 minutes of mostly boring deleted/extended scenes. One of those is actually some of the “real” footage! Putting that on the disc as the first and only extra piece of information almost feels like an admission of defeat. “Yeah, we fooled you, sorry,” the disc might as well be saying. Plus, the Blu-ray basically screams at its viewer to link it up with social media sites like Twitter or Facebook and when a disc urges its viewer to go online, it won’t take long to find your way to the IMDB or Wikipedia.
The picture quality on The Fourth Kind is top notch and the soundtracks, specifically the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, are very effective, loud and crisp. But really, those are just technicalities when the audience itself is the subject of an elaborate joke.
But, really, aren’t all films elaborate jokes? Don’t we always feel for characters or situations that are 100% totally fictional? Yes. But in 99.99% of those films, we aren’t deliberately fooled with direct address and staged “reality.” The Fourth Kind is an excellent exercise in film theory with a few good scares along the way, but chances are it will end up end up being more disappointing than frightening.