Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Fourth Kind

For some reason I can’t fathom, a serious horror movie about the subject of alien abduction has never been done. It seems to me to be ripe for pickin’ as they say, or said a hundred years back. I mean, it has all the classic elements that have scared and scarred adults since their preadolescence: Something peeking into your windows at night; something entering your bedroom while your in a paralyzed half-sleep; nasty trips to the doctor and all those sharp instruments; the fear that no one will believe a word of what you say.

A sharp screenwriter could turn this into box office gold, right?

Well, yes and no. At least where The Fourth Kind is concerned.

For some reason that I don’t fully grasp, the creators of this film wanted to frame their alien abduction story within a pseudo-documentary. It’s a cousin to flicks such as Blair Witch and the more recent, and much better, Paranormal Activity. Through the movie’s ninety-minute running time we’re watching both the grainy “original” documentary interview – which is clearly not “original” – and a parallel Hollywood re-enactment with beautiful actors and actresses on beautiful sets acting in tandem with each other.

Honestly, it seems a little too much. I have to believe some effort was wasted adhering to this technique, effort which would have been better spent trying to add scarier footage. Like more things peering into windows in the background (one of the scariest things I can imagine viewing onscreen, and so rarely done).

The set-up works. On paper, it does. In Nome, Alaska (filmed, I believe, in Bulgaria and which in no way resembles the real Nome, I’ve read), there are a rash of individuals who are having trouble sleeping. Desperate trouble. Suicidal trouble. They all have in common the odd observation that just before falling asleep they see white owls at their windows. Creepy ….

If I was helming the flick I’d have focused on those owls. Gradually reveal more and more what they actually represent, and then show what they actually are at the end of the movie. The Fourth Kind doesn’t do this. In fact, with the exception of a brief but thoroughly awesome, chill-inducing glimpse of a menacing UFO, you might not even know the movie was about abductions. It could have been about demonic possession. That’s why the movie is constantly talking about abductions. A lot cheaper, budget-wise, I suppose, to talk about them than to show them in progress.

And does the movie talk! From the very opening where Milla Jovovich and the director recite a short Mulderish I-want-to-believe speech, to the “documentary” Q and A about the main protagonist’s experiences, to our actors in character trying to convince each other and then the authorities that abductions are actually occurring. Over the end credits we listen to abductees tell their stories in telephone interviews. Talk talk talk.

However, as any devoted SF fan knows, mediocre SF is better than nothing at all. At the very least, it’ll provide camp. While The Fourth Kind is definitely not camp, it’s still worth seeing, under the caveat that you only rent it if these sort of stories get your juices flowing. I must admit having to pull the shades down after watching it. There is an eerie, paranoid, uncomfortable and infectious feeling the film conveys effectively. And there are three or four scenes that make renting the DVD worthwhile: the aforementioned UFO glimpse; some truly scary sounds and images unknowingly recorded; and a quick and nightmarish flashback sequence.

Plus, it has Milla Jovovich in the lead role.

Anyway, I give it a B – , because some of it works and it’s not an insufferably long movie.

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