So remember how a few days ago I went on a rant about how horror fans need to GET OVER IT when it comes to horror films playing the ‘Based on True Events’ card? Yea? Well then I watched The Fourth Kind and it FORCED me to re-examine my position.
But first things first. The Fourth Kind begins with the devine Mila Jovovich (superimposed onto a horrible whirling background) explaining the premise of the movie. She will be playing Dr Emily/Abigail Tyler, though the film will also be interspersed with ‘genuine documentary footage‘ of Dr Tyler, her colleagues and patients etc. Does this film depict true events, the lovely Mila asks us? That is for us to decide. Well…I’ll come to that.
The film tells the story of Dr Tyler (supposedly a psychiatrist but she is only ever seen working as a hypnotherapist). She lives in the isolated Alaskan town of Nome (that’s right, Nome, now there’s a name to strike terror into the hearts of film lovers everywhere). Strange things are clearly afoot in Nome (*snicker*) when Dr Tyler’s patients all report experiencing the same odd phenomena – that of an owl watching over them as they go to sleep. Add to this the fact that Dr Tyler’s own husband was murdered and a large number of Nome residents (hahaha) are going missing and the good doctor decides to do some investigating.
Let’s get a few things straight, first of all, the scariest things about this film are:
This woman’s acting.
And this owl.
Yes, that’s right. I said ‘acting’. Because there is no way in hell that anyone who hadn’t had a full-frontal lobotomy via nasal probe could mistake those clips as ‘genuine.’ If you stumbled across this blog trying to find out whether this film is based on true events or not then shame on you! Don’t be ridiculous! Leave immediately! My cat could have faked interview footage better than that. And what I keep asking myself is: why was the faked footage so bad? Did they want the audience to know it was fake without even having to think? And Mila, beautiful goddess though she may be, is unlikely to win the Laurence Olivier Award for convincing acting – but holy mother of Martians – even she acted the ‘documentary footage’ actors off the screen. What were they thinking?
So we have established that this film is a few shrieking skulls short of a fright-fest. And also that the majority of acting on show is HORRIBLE – so horrible in fact that it makes Mila Jovovich look like Dame Judy Dench.
What next? Oh good god the concept. So Mila Jovovich introduces herself as herself, when in fact she is only playing herself and is in fact introducing her fake self. Because she in fact is pretending to be herself, playing a woman who she is pretending is a real person, but who is not actually a real person, but who will also be portrayed by another woman – pretending to be the real her – but pretending very badly. Still with me? Then there are a whole bunch of other characters who will also be played by two sets of people. The first set will pretend they are actors playing real people, the others are also actors – but you aren’t supposed to know this – because we are supposed to believe they are real people. Real people who happen to act in a very unbelievable way. Then to further convince you that this is real, they splice up the screen so you can see the real fake footage and the fake real footage playing at the same time. And that isn’t confusing in the least! Finally they also have that rolling text at the end that tells us what happened to all these pretend people – who they are still pretending are real. And then they put the name of one of these pretend people in the end credits to really try and fox you! They also play the tape recordings of genuinely ‘real’ UFO sightings over the end credits just really, really try and fool you.
I would like to tell you that this film is a brilliantly clever piece of cinema: toying with concepts of reality; examining how far we are willing or able to suspend our disbelief in the interests of dramatic representation; that it contrasts the concepts of truth and beauty; that it explores the notion of fiction being more truthful than reality; against a backdrop of alien abduction as an expression of psychological disturbance and human expression. I would like to tell you that. But I would be lying.
This film is a mess. And frankly, it shoots itself in the foot. No in fact it shoots itself in both feet. With a big Alaskan harpoon. It’s one of those damn films that had potential – only in this instance it completely destroyed its potential by hiring crappy actors and confusing its audience in its desperate hunt to do something original. For the first 20 minutes of this film I genuinely thought it was going to do something clever. Dr Tyler was clearly a disturbed woman. Was she somehow influencing her own patients? Placing the subliminal image of the owl in their minds? Deluding them into thinking they had been abducted? No. She wasn’t. That was just yet another instance of me thinking up a much cleverer story than the one of the screen. The owl was a piece of mental manipulation, put in place by evil forces to hide the fact that these people really had been abducted by aliens.
And then things get silly. Yes I said ‘and then’ things get silly. Because all that other stuff wasn’t nearly silly enough on its own. Then we have spine busting contortions. Aliens that speak Summerian (or some shit, I’d given up caring as this film happily skipped into Ghost-Busters territory). A town Sheriff and a trained Psychiatrist happily allowing a woman with serious psychiatric problems, not only to continue living in her fantasy world – but also practising as a psychiatrist.
There are a few nice scenes. The concept of how the aliens make people ‘feel’ rather than what they do or how they look was interesting – but it was all just swept away in a tide of utter nonsense and confusion. This film is one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ films and you kind of find yourself rooting for it at times. It’s crap but it’s marginally entertaining crap that’s trying really, really hard. But I don’t recommend it.
But as for my rant about horror ‘fans’ needing to get over it with regard to films pretending to be real – I stand by it. Had this film pulled it off, it would have been infinitely better. If you’re going to play the ‘it really happened’ card, then do it well – or don’t bother, because you will just be drawing attention to the fact that the content of your work is not real and therefore breaking the compact that exists between audience and dramatist: we know it’s not real, but we will suspend that knowledge while we watch. Playing with this implicit understanding is to indulge in meta-theatre and this is always a dangerous game which can backfire stupendously when not handled by an expert.