Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thirty One Days of Horror: The Fourth Kind

The Fourth Kind movie poster

Day Six: The Fourth Kind

Well, it's not the fifth Resident Evil movie, but Milla Jovovich is starring in it, so I guess there's a consistency so far. Ironically I did not know Milla was in this movie until I started watching it. Milla's performance was outstanding, and the main drive behind this film. She's a great actress regardless of the kind of movie she's in.

The Fourth Kind is a filmed as a mockumentary which tries to pretend it isn't, designed to pretend like it's a film providing a documentary "retelling" of actual events, footage of which is intermixed with the dramatizations included there in. If this movie didn't get a critical reception (and my understanding is it didn't) this may very well be part of the reason. The splicing of dramatized events with the pseudo-real tapes doesn't work as well as it could have, and the film left me wishing it would either do one or the other and stopping trying to be creative.

The movie was apparently shot on a modest budget of $10 million, and had returns close to four times that amount, making it a success, technically. The film itself is pretty skimpy in terms of special effects; it was pretty clearly filmed with an eye for the old notion of "less is more." In this case I think it works fairly well; when strange and disturbing things do happen, the method of delivery focuses on more of a "tell, don't show" approach that works well enough that the viewer is left filling in the gaps or looking for tiny but meaningful clues about what is going on. There are a couple scenes that were extremely effective in this regard.

The Fourth Kind is basically about a hypnotherapist/psychiatrist in Nome, Alaska who discovers a disturbing trend among her local patients to describe the same series of late-night incidents leading to insomnia, including a mysterious owl that shows up. She has a past herself, with a husband who was mysteriously killed and two children, the daughter having developed blindness after the husband perished.

As the story progresses more mysteries compile, accented by cut scenes and spliced scenes of the "original" documentary tapes supposedly portraying the real people behind these events. The overall effect is a build-up to some disturbing events surrounding the possibility that people in Nome are being kidnapped and experimented on by non-human entities, which may or may not be aliens.

Overall I thought the movie did a compelling job of selling me on the idea that it was portraying believable events (at least as the characters in the film understood them), although at first I found it's odd documentary approach difficult to get into. It was about the point where the therapist notices common trends among her patients descriptions of events that it got interesting. The movie manages to cleverly weave a mixture of "pseudo fact" and fiction together into a decent narrative that felt reasonably organic, relying on the "dramatized" component to make it more engaging in a conventional sense while using the supposed actual footage to make the story feel more real.

Okay, some spoilers ahead for those who care. The movie borrows a number of recurrent concepts from paranormal and UFO folklore to help lend strength to its story line. Owls, for example, are often implied to be the culprits behind certain more famous UFO sightings that involve big-eyed little grey men. Owls are also sometimes pointed at as the cause of the infamous Mothman sightings. This movie took that idea and ran with it.

The Fourth Kind injected a bit of the "weirder than normal" as well, going beyond conventional UFO lore and adding in some inferred "ancient astronaut" stuff that also implied the possibility of extra-dimensional visitors who are in fact better labeled as demons or old gods. I won't elaborate, but it's a nice touch and a rare case where nothing in the film specifically violated any actual information on the subjects being used to support the assertion, which in turn was primarily modeled as one man's curious obsession. This lets you as the viewer come to your own conclusions about what it means and what is implied. For me, I think it is telling when by the end they beings are referred to as "non-human intelligences."

There is one thing worth mentioning: the film is shot entirely in hues of teal and orange. If you're unfamiliar with this coloring trend in Hollywood you can read a bit about it over at Into the Abyss. It's not something you might pick up on ordinarily, but I found that once my attention was drawn to it I couldn't stop noticing it. Worse, it gets really annoying once you begin to pick up on how prevalent this technique is.

Anyway, see this movie if you liked X-Files, want some good fodder for a Call of Cthulhu or Conspiracy X campaign, or were a fan of "The Blair Witch Project" as well as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and would like to see those two film styles merged into an entirely different entity with a modest budget.

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