Oh, how I wanted to love this movie.
To be fair, I didn't hate it - I just didn't have a whole lot of feeling about it at all. I suppose it worked for some people, but not I.
The Fourth Kind is a phrase used to reference a close encounter. As in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the third kind is apparently contact. The fourth kind is abduction. In all my years of watching The X-Files I can't seem to recall Mulder saying those words in regards to his sister's disappearance, but hey - maybe he did.
Anyway...the movie by the same name claims to be based on actual cases of missing people in the Nome, Alaska area. It tries to explain away these disappearances by saying they are alien abductions. The film is done in a mock documentary style (as in Blair Witch or the fantastic recent entry into this style of movie, Lake Mungo).
Now maybe it's just me, but I am still utterly baffled at the way this film was done, because I really feel it could have been excellent. I get the whole documentary thing, but it starts out by having Milla Jovovich stare into the camera and tell us she is an actress playing the role of Dr. Abigail Tyler - and that what you are about to see is a dramatization of "true" events that happened in Nome back in 2000. She begs you to draw your own conclusions.
So then we get multiple split screens, one with what is supposed to be the actual Abigail Tyler and the other with Milla in the same role, both trying to explain what happened the night her husband was killed by an unseen assailant. Confusion just doesn't seem to even be the right word for what they were doing here. Why, if we were going to hear the explanation of the events from the actual Tyler would we need someone to play her role? She didn't really exist in the first place to my knowledge, so we're getting two women both portraying the same person?
I feel very much like I am inadequately describing the situation here, but I just don't know what to make of it. We have the "actual" doctor giving the story, as well as the actress telling the same tale. Okaaaay...
On with it.
So Abby's husband was allegedly researching these disappearances, and it is obvious he was close to discovering something, and after his mysterious death, Abby feels compelled to continue his work. She, as a psychologist, starts interviewing subjects regarding strange sleeping patterns. Many similarities between cases are revealed. All of the patients are having trouble sleeping, most waking in the middle of the night (all around three-thirty) and they are all seeing a white owl at their window each night. One woman even said the owl had been "visiting" her since she was a child.
Seriously, the owl freaked me out. But rather quickly I surmised that what the folks were actually seeing was typical aliens. Not real hard to see that one coming. And shouldn't we remember the classic words from Twin Peaks? "The owls are not what they seem..."
But the victims are all brainwashed by the higher beings to some capacity to think it was an owl that they saw. As Abby delves deeper into their heads through hypnosis, it is clear that they were conditioned not to remember much more than that. When a few of them are able to tell her that they hear someone coming to the door, and then actually entering their bedroom, they have to be quickly awakened from the hypnosis because they are, for lack of better words, freaking out.
In one case, the night after a man nearly describes what he sees coming for him (which, frankly put, is obviously aliens coming into his room to fiddle with his body or what have you), he takes his wife and children hostage. Abby is called to the scene because the man demands to speak with her, so she tries to talk him down, so to speak. Her hostage negotiation skills are less than stellar and the man, after muttering something in a weird foreign language, shoots his entire family and then himself. Whoops!
The film continues from there with Abby, though warned by the local police chief (Will Patton) - who thinks she's looney tunes after her alien abduction theory surfaces - continues the research with the troubled subjects. Abby has a colleague who comes to stay with her, Dr. Campos (Elias Koteas) and though he thinks maybe she's off her rocker due to the stress of her husband's death, he agrees to help her. Abby's family is touched upon a bit by having us meet her children. Her son Ronnie blames her for his father's death, and daughter Ashley has suffered from conversion disorder (hysterical blindness) since the death.
After yet another patient flips out under hypnosis, Abby's secretary brings in her tape recorded dictation that she was working to translate. On the tape, after Abby's chatter about the patient's strange episode, there is a screeching and breathing and finally a strange voice not of this earth screeching an unknown language. Sufficiently wigged out, Abby contacts a language specialist that her husband had apparently known and worked with to translate the language.
Turns out it's Sumerian - a ancient language not used in centuries. He then throws in the fact that many Sumerian exhibits in museums feature drawings that resemble aliens and strange ships, attempting to suggest that "they" have been here all along.
When the wife of another subject pleads for Abby to come to their house and hypnotize her husband, Abby does so, and in return the man proceeds to growl and scream, speaking in other tongues, and eventually levitates violently, breaking his neck and paralyzing himself. Naturally, the cop is certain Abby has something to do with the troubles in town and is on the verge of arresting her but thankfully her doctor friend helps avoid this.
However, eventually Abby gets too close to the truth and her daughter goes missing. Though we do not see it happening, it is obvious that at the very least Abby believes her daughter was abducted. She tells the cop she saw a beam of light come down from the sky and steal her daughter away. The police and even her doctor friend find this hard to believe, and custody of her son is then lost when he is removed from the home by the cops.
Seeing as how I've already given so much away, I will refrain from spoiling the ending. But I will say that I just had all kind of difficulty with this film. I don't mind a movie with a slow pace, as long as things are at least coherent. But there was so much going on here, with having to listen to both the "real" Abby and her actress portrayal, that I had trouble following. I liked the whole owl thing - a good vague doppelganger for an alien head. That kind of freaked me out.
But the rest of it - sooo not scary. Ever. Confusion abounds, and I even found myself drifting off several times and having to rewind, so perhaps if I were more cognizant of what was going on, I'd have a better explanation of just what they were getting at here.
The reason this is a "mindless movie" is simply because it was just all over the place. Like I said, I wanted to love it, and probably would have given it more credibility if it hadn't done the whole double interview thing. As it was, I was already trying to determine what was real and what wasn't. Too much ambiguity, and too much desperation to be an intelligent, engrossing film. It just falls flat.
In all, it felt like an overblown and extra-confusing X-Files episode, and I was certainly missing Agents Mulder and Scully, to say the least.