A friend of mine recently called The Blair Witch Project the most influencial horror film of the decade, and I was hardly able to disagree. In fact, my friend might not have gone far enough – the Blair Witch Project (which, technically, was released in 1999,) might just be the most influential film of the decade, of any genre. The DIY aesthetic of a basic camera with basic video quality was ahead of its time, we wouldn’t realize how revolutionary the film would be until the YouTube phenomina hit. We were reminded of the impact of Blair Witch over the last month as Paranormal Activity swept cineplexes across the nation.
With rather unfortunate timing, comes The Fourth Kind, a movie that mimes the same technic that Blair Witch established, if with a twist. From the beginning of The Fourth Kind, star Milla Jovovich directly addresses the audience to inform them that the following film uses actual documentary footage spliced into dramatic re-enactments Ã la, Unsolved Mysteries.
The story documents odd occurences in Nome, Alaska; specifically those following recently-widowed psychologist Abigail Tyler (in the dramtizations, played by Jovovich). She quickly realizes that several of her patients are suffering from similar night terrors involving, uh, a snow owl that stares at them in their sleep. But Dr. Tyler investigates, and discovers, you know, aliens and shit. Shit as in, people suddenly go crazy, levitate, you know.
It uses an interesting blend of technics presented by The Fourth Kind‘s writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi. Scenes flicker back and forth between grainy prosumer cameras documenting interviews, security cameras and reinactments with famous (well, B-List) actors – sometimes all in one frame. Osunsanmi deserves props for trying something new, but it’d be generous to classify these technique’s use as successful – while it lends credence to the story to use such footage, I found myself distracted. Watching each reenacted scene, I found myself in the Director’s seat, wondering how they decided to use what footage and how. It amounts to a bumpy ride.
But in many ways, a Horror film’s success relies mostly if not entirely on how scary it is. The Fourth Kind certainly has scary moments, and can be even scarier depending on whether or not you buy that any of this actually happened. But the scares are cheap â€“ loud sound effects, if startling, do not a horror film make. And even if they are scary, they’re too few and far between. Which leads to the downfall of this movie –
The rest of the film, mostly reenactments, is filled out with awful sideplots dragged down by even awfuller acting. Though Elias Koteas and Hakeem Kae-Kazim, playing collegues of Dr. Tyler, are able to chew up the cheese of the story, everyone else fails hard in the film. Jovovich approaches her role with more seriousness than an alien-abduction flick deserves, but she’s nothing compared to Will Patton as the Sheriff. An apparant accolyte of Christian Bale, Patton doesn’t realize that screaming lines doesn’t automatically make for strong acting. Worst still is the woman introduced as the “real” Dr. Tyler – whether or not this movie is for real, this woman behaves so over the top, with bug-eyes the size of a flying saucer, that it’s exceptionally difficult to take her seriously. Kristin Wiig could play the part more convincingly.
The movie’s aesthetic similarities to Unsolved Mysteries aren’t just in style alone. As a guy who spent days off of school watching Lifetime for their two-hour block of the show, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that The Fourth Kind feels like an over-produced version of the Robert Stack hour, with slicker photography. Though I haven’t been able to catch an episode of the now-cancelled show for years, I think I’d love it just as much today, yet I can’t say I’m especially fond of The Fourth Kind.
Why? Unsolved Mysteries just took stories, reenacted them on the cheap and in the process added a camp value to real-world scary stories. The Fourth Kind‘s problem is that it takes itself far too seriously, investing more in its methods than in its story – whether or not it’s real, I don’t buy it. Maybe it would have worked out if the acting held through, but it doesn’t. Check this movie out with your friends if you’re in the mood for an unconventional alien abduction story, but otherwise just forget about it.