With the fumbled release of "The Fourth Kind," sneaky-hip viral movie marketing shoots itself in the foot. It's been 10 years since the makers of "The Blair Witch Project" used the Internet to plant eerie suggestions that the events in their film were real. Today the Internet is patrolled by a legion of bull-sniffing bloggers, so any attempt to do the same thing again is doomed to fail. And the picture expends so much of its energy trying to pound home its preposterous assertions that there's very little left over to animate the story, which is in any case a hopeless jumble.
The movie is an attempted alien-abduction thriller. It begins with what is probably the most laughable opening scene of the year. Walking through some misty woods and straight up to the camera, the film's star, Milla Jovovich, informs us that everything we're about to see is true — that it's "supported by archived footage" and is "extremely disturbing." But then we're also told that the names and professions of the characters have been changed. Why would that be, if they're all real people? The silly premise instantly begins to crumble.
Nothing in this movie is real, starting with the aerial shots of Nome, Alaska, where the story is set. What we see is a city surrounded by mountains and forests (the picture was mostly shot in Bulgaria). But the real Nome, as actual residents have noted online, is situated in a vast, strap-flat snowy landscape. From this point, the film's bogosity only builds.
The picture has an awkward duplex narrative. In one part of it, Jovovich plays a "real" Nome psychologist named Dr. Abigail Tyler, whose husband was recently murdered (an unwise red herring that eventually sandbags the whole story), leaving her to tend to her young son and daughter. Back in 2000, Tyler's patients, under hypnotic regression, all began telling her the same strange tale — that they were being awakened in the middle of the night by a strange dream. Something was lurking outside their bedroom window. Something was opening their bedroom door. Something [insert shrieks of horror]. Tyler videotapes these sessions with the help of a fellow psychologist (played by Elias Koteas), and of course we see the tapes, at wearying length. They're certainly intense — much shouting and crying, even a brief bit of irrelevant levitation. This long section of the movie is maddeningly repetitive, with most of the tension being conjured up on the soundtrack, an onslaught of nerve-pinch strings, doomsday percussion and stray tiny tinklings. The movie itself seems more terrified than any viewer is likely to be.
Mixed into all of this are scenes of the director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, conducting a solemn interview with the actual (make that "actual") Dr. Abigail Tyler — a mercifully uncredited actress in puzzling land-of-the-dead makeup. We also see her tapes — the "real" ones, of course. Then there's a visit by a professor (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) who's conversant with the language of ancient Sumer. He's called in by Jovovich's Tyler after she hears a strange tongue being spoken through the static on one of her tapes. The professor arrives, listens to the tape, and unsurprisingly confirms that this is, indeed, the language of ancient Sumer. Why this should matter is left to our incomprehension.
There's little more to be said. The patients have all become nightly rentals for alien abductors (the Fourth Kind being the category of extraterrestrial encounter that follows the less-alarming Third Kind). We never see these creatures, although at one point we do briefly glimpse some big blurry figures. These aren't especially scary, either.
At the end of the film we're informed that the "real" Abigail Tyler now lives somewhere "on the East Coast," under medical supervision. The implication here may be that some sort of government conspiracy has contrived to silence her. On the other hand, both incarnations of the good doctor have acted so dotty throughout, we can more easily conclude that she's simply nuts. (For a hearty take-down of this whole movie, see Kyle Hopkins' report on the Web site of The Anchorage Daily News. )
With its many confusions and general silliness, "The Fourth Kind" feels much too long. At 98 minutes, it could easily have been at least 10 or 15 minutes shorter without losing much, if anything at all. More usefully, it could have been 98 minutes shorter.
Check out everything we've got on "The Fourth Kind."
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