Original US release date: November 6, 2009
Production budget: $10,000,000
Worldwide gross: $47,709,193
I originally caught The Fourth Kind shortly after its home video release, missing it during its theatrical run. One of my students at the time had caught it and said that I had to see it, so I followed his advice. I didn’t regret it, but I was confused by what I had witnessed. The film purported to be a retelling of actual events. The lead actor, Milla Jovovich, even introduces herself by her real name and then explicitly states as such. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi appears as himself, as well, functioning as an interviewer for an actual witness to the story, Dr. Abigail Tyler. There is low-grade footage and there are audio files – all dated October, 2000 – to supplement the work the actors are doing onscreen and it’s all very convincing. But, this is an alien abduction film. If this is real, why aren’t we hearing more about it? Is it because the scientific communities are afraid to express validation for fear of appearing foolish? Or is it simply a complete fabrication?
Well, it doesn’t appear to be a complete fabrication, but it does seem to mostly be a work of fiction, despite Ms. Jovovich’s opening disclaimer. The most succinct analysis of the veracity of the film’s events that I could find is right here at a website entitled UFOInsight. The alleged abductions in the film take place in 2000 in Nome, Alaska. In reality, there were a series of disappearances in Nome at this time, but no one has ever actually hypothesized that aliens are to blame. Instead, it appears that Osunsanmi and Universal Pictures crafted a story around those disappearances and marketed it as truth, complete with “footage” to back it up. Some have compared it to The Blair Witch Project in that way. I counter that the cast of The Blair Witch Project was making the rounds and doing publicity for that film (I recall seeing star Heather Donahue on “The Tonight Show”, looking quite healthy for someone who was otherwise missing and presumed dead), meaning that no one involved in that film was actually attempting to hoodwink anyone into thinking it true.
So, Osunsanmi and Universal’s approach to making and promoting The Fourth Kind is actually rather mind-boggling. Why risk that kind of backlash? Did the cast even believe it was true? I would lean towards thinking that they did, but I really have no idea. If I ever meet Ms. Jovovich, I’m going to ask her, though. I know that in order to critique The Fourth Kind, the film must – at least in part – be viewed through two lenses: that of someone who believes it to be real and that of someone who has been enlightened to the truth.
There’s no question that the movie is far more gripping and terrifying if one believes that the archival footage and audio clips are authentic. The presentation of the film is unmatched in its veneer of authenticity. The video and audio from 2000 feels genuinely low-tech and damaged. The actors come across as real people. Only the actress portraying the “real” Abigail Tyler (the character that Jovovich also plays) in the interview setting with Osunsanmi strays into a bit of transparent acting towards the end of the film. Even then, it’s possible to convince oneself that she was simply prepped ahead of the interview and therefore prepared what she wanted to say, thereby coming off as less natural. All told, it’s easy to understand why anyone would believe that all of the footage and the story is real.
For anyone who goes into the film with the knowledge that it is pure entertainment, the stakes are lower, but there has to be a greater appreciation for the artistry involved, here. The film geek in me is partially angered at the misdirection from Osunsanmi and Universal, but the other part is immensely impressed by their vision and style. With so many found footage films and mockumentaries out there, it’s nearly impossible to venture into that territory with any sort of uniqueness, but there’s not been a film quite like this one, before or since.
There are several legitimate scares in the film and they are executed brilliantly. The true terror of the film lies in the persistent underlying atmosphere. There’s an unrelenting sense of unpredictability, galvanized by the constant intercutting of the archival footage with the Hollywood reenactment. Osunsanmi refuses to let the audience go too long without a reminder that this is supposed to be true. He truly understands how to craft effective suspense. In the years following 2009, Osunsanmi has mostly stuck to a small amount of television work, which is a shame. Despite his involvement in the deception, I cant help but appreciate his talents.
Jovovich deserves some credit, too, for a strong performance that serves as the heart and soul of the film. She’s an oft underrated and overlooked talent that is more than just an action star. She exudes true intelligence and emotion throughout the film, and it’s not limited only to fear.
The Fourth Kind received a lot of negative talk upon its release, and I truly think much of it had to do with the false representation of the film by the studio and filmmakers. Many viewers felt lied to and some might have even felt embarrassed at falling for it (though they needn’t be). In essence, the film should be seen if for no other reason than for its imaginative methods for proffering a convincing tale that’s out of this world.
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