A Fire in the Sky for the post-Blair Witch generation, The Fourth Kind purports to present dramatized accounts of actual unexplained events as experienced by the residents of Nome, AK, and investigated by Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist who fell prey to alien abductors after noticing disturbing trends among her patients. If only moviegoers were as gullible as they were back when that group of college filmmakers vanished in the Maryland woods without a trace, perhaps screenwriter/director Olatunde Osunsanmi's sham shocker would have actually had us going there for a minute.
Shortly after losing her husband in what appeared to be a violent home invasion, Dr. Abigail Tyler returns to work and begins to notice an alarming trend among her patients: not only are their sleeping patterns being inexplicably disrupted, but each time they wake up in the middle of the night, a white owl is perched outside their window peering in. When one of her patients goes insane and commits the worst crime in the small town's history, the tragedy sets into motion a terrifying series of events that would convince any skeptic that we are not alone in the universe.
Since roughly two minutes of the film's 98 are genuinely unnerving, it would be somewhat dishonest to call The Fourth Kind a complete failure -- so we'll play fair and call it a 98-percent failure. These days, claiming that a horror film is "based on actual events" is about as original as making a slasher film where a bunch of teenagers have sex and get stabbed. There may have been a time when that old chestnut was enough to send a chill up the spine of the average moviegoer, but these days it essentially has the opposite effect -- raising a red flag of skepticism that causes even the most incredulous of viewers to cross their arms in a defiant huff. To make matters worse, Osunsanmi wants to have it both ways. By including "real" footage of interviews with the doctors and patients who have experienced extraterrestrial encounters, he attempts to seduce us with the type of grainy, low-quality footage that supports the claim of being genuine, and then he attempts to shift back and forth between a traditional narrative punctuated by so many rack focuses and camera moves that the stylistic contrast becomes too distracting to be genuinely effective. When Osunsanmi attempts to merge the two styles via split screen, he wanders into Brian De Palma territory and essentially diffuses any and all tension by forcing the viewer to focus on two images that are essentially one and the same. Add to that the fact that most of the scare scenes consist of little more than wavy static and jarring noises, and what you're left with is a film that falls back on an overused cliché to lure us in, and abuses the "more is less" approach once we've taken the bait.
And then there's the overacting. If The Fourth Kind doesn't work as a fright film, at least the unintentionally overwrought performances of Milla Jovovich and Will Patton lend the hopelessly inept proceedings some comic relief. From a prologue that finds a poker-faced Jovovich emerging from the forest with an ominous warning that the events we are about to see are deeply disturbing to a later scene in which Patton destroys a children's bedroom in a petrified hissy fit, there's plenty to laugh about in those precious few moments when we don't feel like we're being swindled by an overzealous filmmaker with a swollen ego. Osunsanmi can't resist the urge to appear onscreen, portraying an interviewer speaking with the "actual" Dr. Tyler. Viewers who paid to scream rather than to laugh, though, would be better off simply gazing up at the stars and using their imagination.