If there’s a low point of viral movie marketing, consider The Fourth Kind the Mariana Trench.
Writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi’s tale of purported alien abduction is smugly self-congratulatory, perilously slow and clumsily presented as a reenactment of events supported by “factual” audiovisual evidence.
Milla Jovovich tells the audience that in the opening scene — earnestly selling The Fourth Kind as a blend of fact and fiction, vetted by documented material, about the life of Dr. Abigail Tyler (the therapist she’s about to play). At least this direct address offers proper pronunciation of Jovovich’s name, straight from her mouth.
“Some of what you’re about to see is extremely disturbing,” Jovovich adds.
There aren’t press notes for The Fourth Kind, only websites (with domains bought in August) and Twitter feeds for Tyler (likely updated by inexperienced marketing interns and fraught with grammatical errors). Viruses cause fevers. This is what happens when executives hallucinate dollar signs behind flimsy premises.
Onscreen, Osunsanmi stamps “ACTUAL AUDIO” and “ACTUAL VIDEO” over distorted video-camera and audio-recorder footage. If someone slapped a “REAL DIAMONDS” sticker on a 25-cent plastic ring from a vending machine, you’d call shenanigans, too.
Then there’s the “interview” between Osunsanmi and the “real” Tyler, resembling the sort of stiff, stilted chats shown on The Daily Show. Alien-existence skeptics will laugh. Believers will point to The Fourth Kind as the reason for skepticism.
Even setting aside its ridiculous attempts at validity, The Fourth Kind has no momentum, shocks or scares. Dry, recitative and boringly repetitive, it’s written with all the pulpy pep of Wikipedia footnotes and reliant upon exotic owls for its attempt at frights.
Worst of all, Osunsanmi and co-writer Terry Lee Robbins have latched their small-time ideas to a small-town tragedy in Nome, Alaska — where many people actually have gone missing and been presumed dead over the years.
Officially, alcoholism and harsh conditions have been blamed. Osunsanmi suggests foul play … at the hands of aliens! The title refers to the four stages of alien interaction – sighting, evidence, contact and abduction. Events occurring in The Fourth Kind might explain why Steven Spielberg quit while he was ahead.
Tyler is a therapist studying wonky sleep patterns among the denizens of Nome. She’s carrying on the work of her husband, brutally stabbed in his sleep by an intruder whose face she cannot recall. The attack also caused — wait for it — hysterical blindness in Tyler’s daughter, Ashley (Mia McKenna-Bruce).
Hypnosis hasn’t helped Tyler deal with grief, but she tries it out on a trio of Alaskans who all report to her the same symptoms — a jolt awake at 3:33 a.m. and a white owl at their window.
After a tragic post-hypnosis event with one patient — displayed with the screen nauseatingly divided into quarters a la 24 — the local sheriff (Will Patton) demands that Tyler shut her study down.
Yet Tyler pushes forth, fueled by the conviction her husband’s death is somehow connected. She soon learns that it’s not smart to rattle the cage of otherworldly beings that can make humans levitate and vomit ancient Sumerian language.
Better balances of “fact” and fiction can be found on the History Channel. Better acting, too. As a psychotherapy colleague to Tyler, Elias Koteas revisits his community-theater De Niro approach. With hoarse wailing and wet-snot sniveling, Jovovich embarrassingly apes Angelina Jolie’s work in Changeling. And Osunsanmi appears to not have told Patton he planned to sell this tedious hooey as truth. The scenery buffet hasn’t looked this bad since Nick Nolte made nine trips in Hulk.
If Osunsanmi’s “found” footage was shot in 2000, as time codes suggest, it was clearly as his student-film precursor to this feature-length nonsense. And in an era of balloon boys and Paranormal Activity (an equally overhyped dud that’s a comparative masterpiece), Osunsanmi should’ve concocted a hookier hoax or a climactic “twist” that made one iota of sense.
In the end, The Fourth Kind asks the audience to draw its own conclusion about what really happened to all those people in Nome. Oh, but the truth is out there: The Fourth Kind is the worst movie of 2009 and one of the worst of the decade.