Or “Close Encounters of the Worst Kind,” in every conceivable sense. Olatunde Osunsanmi’s attempt at a thriller about alien abduction is terrible, but it does accomplish a couple of things you might have thought impossible: making Milla Jovovich look dowdy (unlike in most of her movies, her wardrobe lacks leather and revealing touches, so she looks almost frumpy), and making her appear a better actress than usual. Not that’s she’s actually better: it’s just that the picture often uses split screens and juxtapositions to contrast her with the supposedly “real” character she’s playing, and the other “Dr. Abigail Tyler” is so supremely awful that the restrained, if mediocre Jovovich actually seems good, if only by comparison.
“The Fourth Kind” has the misfortune to arrive soon after “Paranormal Activity,” which used grainy video footage to create a strikingly realistic ambiance for its story of poltergeist, or demonic, activity that bedevils a bland suburban couple. Osunsanmi tries to achieve a similarly convincing atmosphere by juxtaposing purportedly “authentic” video footage of Dr. Tyler, being interviewed by himself, with recreations of the pertinent events starring Jovovich, who introduces the picture as though it were a quasi-documentary. The elaborate charade fails completely, in the first place because the supposed file footage is so wretchedly made. The unidentified woman playing the “real” Tyler masticates the scenery so broadly that you’re prone to laugh at her excesses. And Osunsanmi doesn’t help matters with his flat, sleepy interview delivery. Even the attempt to make the footage look “distressed” is technically poor. The fact is that if you’re gullible enough to accept the backstory given here, you’re probably the sort of person who’ll take Criswell’s assurances that “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is based on sworn testimony at face value.
But the admitted recreations aren’t appreciably better. If you bother to unpack it from the fragmented mess in which the script delivers it, the plot centers on Tyler, a therapist practicing in Nome, Alaska, who’s suffering her own trauma as a result of the death of her husband Will, also a psychologist, who she believes, as her own therapist (Elias Koteas) gets her to admit, was murdered by some spectral force he’d been investigating. (His death also caused their young daughter Ashley, played by Mia McKenna-Bruce, to go blind, and their son to turn surly.) Simultaneously she finds that several of her patients are suffering from night terrors that begin with the appearance of owls staring at them through their windows. One of them (Corey Johnson) goes home after a session with her, during which he’d been hypnotized, and kills his wife and children while she looks on, summoned to the scene by down-to-earth local sheriff August (Will Patton), who doesn’t take kindly to any suggestion that anything supernatural might be afoot.
But Tyler is convinced there is, and enlists Dr. Adusami (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) to help her decipher some strange sounds that show up on one of her audio tapes. He recognizes it as someone—or something—speaking threateningly in Sumerian, the world’s oldest language, and promptly connects it with the old Erich von Daniken theory of ancient astronauts that came to earth aeons ago. The problem is, they seem to be back, and not in a friendly way, abducting local residents and driving them insane, and targeting people like the Tylers who become too aware of their existence. Why they should have chosen a modest community in northern Alaska for their work is never explained, but as far as they’re concerned, apparently there’s no place like Nome.
In any event, they retaliate against Tyler by abducting Ashley, and the obstinately unbelieving sheriff suspects that Abigail herself is responsible for the girl’s disappearance. Meanwhile another of her patients has begun levitating as though he were Linda Blair. From this point the movie descends into ever further depths of incoherence and silliness, marked by performances that vary from Jovovich’s limp attempts at emotion to that unidentified Tyler’s overwrought effort to play nutty, with Patton and Koteas occasionally looking bemused, as though to indicate they understand the goofy surroundings they’re in. (The owl gives the best performance; a pity it leaves so soon.) Mention should also be made of the level of frustration that the coyness in the script is likely to cause. There are no effects to speak of, save that weak levitation scene, since the video recordings inevitably go crazy whenever the aliens are said to appear, and the Sumerian threats are always indecipherable except for stray words and phrases that suggest much while spelling out nothing. As a result the only jolts come from Atli Orvarsson’s score, which repeatedly inserts those loud “gotcha” chords whenever something that’s supposed to be scary kicks in. It’s a trick that quickly becomes tiresome.
By the time “The Fourth Kind” ends with Jovovich and Osunsanmi directly addressing the audience, Criswell-like, about the truth of what they’ve just seen, and unidentified folk testifying to their run-ins with UFOs over the credits, the movie has gone through almost every impoverished trick imaginable to generate goosebumps, all without result. It winds up feeling like one of those lousy “X-Files” episodes that came after David Duchovny left the show. Only people who took rubbish like that embarrassing old Fox- TV “Alien Autopsy” program seriously would buy into this nonsense, or enjoy it in the least.