Movie Review: The Fourth Kind, starring Milla Jovovich

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[image-1]The movie focuses on Dr. Abigail Tyler (played by Jovovich), a widower and clinical psychologist working with people who are suffering from repressed memories of terrifying experiences. Tyler puts her patients under hypnosis, presumably to guide them through a cathartic cleansing. But her soft-spoken demeanor and low-key eagerness suggest an obsession with having them re-experience traumatic events for her own benefit. As it unfolds, the film leaves open the interpretation that Tyler is using the power of suggestion to put her patients into intense torment in order to deal with her own tragedy.

Jovovich doesn’t offer many clues about her character’s interior life — perhaps because she made a decision to keep the audience guessing as to Tyler’s sanity. Her performance stands in stark contrast to footage of her “real” counterpart. During interview sessions with the film’s director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, the wheelchair-bound Tyler comes across as a pitiful, deluded woman suffering from a debilitating mental disease.

By the time one of her patients commits suicide and another injures himself during a videotaped session, the town sheriff (veteran character actor Will Patton) has reached his breaking point and places Tyler under house arrest. At this juncture, a crucial plot development injects a fresh urgency into The Fourth Kind that it badly needed.

Patton’s work here deserves to be commended. He gives the film’s best performance as Sheriff August, a no-nonsense lawman who, in his own words, deals in facts.  August is The Fourth Kind’s voice of reason, supplying it with much-needed credibility in light of its dubious claims to authenticity and Tyler’s doubtful assertions.

Because all of the characters, save for Tyler, are given aliases, and because their real-life counterparts had none-to-little participation in the making of The Fourth Kind — with Tyler again being the lone exception — it’s quite reasonable to doubt the film’s claim to be based on real-life events. At both its opening and conclusion, Jovovich and Osunsanmi distinguish between the events themselves and its characters’ interpretations of those occurrences, a disclaimer that gives the filmmakers license to indulge in Tyler’s subjective experience without ever committing to it as truth.

Osunsanmi, who previously helmed The Cavern, makes an interesting and effective aesthetic choice by displaying allegedly real footage from Tyler’s sessions with simultaneous dramatizations in a multiple-image format. The conceit frees Osunsanmi from having to pad his thin script and lets him focus only on incidents that were supposedly recorded. The concurrent display of events also lends the film the compelling allure of a documentary even during its dramatized episodes.

The Fourth Kind flags considerably in spots, and feels far longer than its 98-minute runtime. For those who can’t get past its claim to be based on true events, the movie could easily be viewed as pure hokum. For others unfazed by that pretense, The Fourth Kind contains few moments of sustained horror, even if those scenes are viewed as merely a glimpse into the terrifying world of mental illness.

For a movie whose title references the most sinister level of encounter with an alien life form — abduction — The Fourth Kind should probably have come with a modest “buyer beware” warning.

That’s because the film is less about getting prodded and probed by little green men than it is a test of what we are willing to believe and be frightened by. As The Fourth Kind opens, actress Milla Jovovich addresses the audience directly, telling us that what we are about to watch is based on a series of strange occurrences that purportedly happened in Nome, Alaska, during the first week of October 2000.

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