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The Fourth Kind

The most frightening scary stories from your childhood are likely the ones that the teller claimed were real. Stories that started, "You know that abandoned house over on Forest Street? Well, you know why no one lives there?" The risk is when one tries to overplay the sincerity.

It's one thing to suggest a story is real and let it stand on it's own merit. It's quite another to assert, assure, and insist a story is real and then attempt to back up your claims by producing a poor-quality Polaroid of the ghost/killer/alien that you saw with your very own eyes.At that point, you may well have put more on the line than you intended.

Like those ghost stories, The Fourth Kind is an alien abduction movie that makes the assertion of it's authenticity paramount from the very first sequence, and as a result it's a movie that lives or dies based on your opinion of that move.

The conceit of The Fourth Kind is a new twist. It claims to be a melding of dramatic reenactment and actual recorded footage concerning events in Nome, Alaska in October, 2000. Milla Jovovich plays Abigail Tyler, a psychotherapist in Nome whose husband has recently died under mysterious circumstances while conducting a sleep study. It seems some people in Nome are having a hard time sleeping, and are all being woken up at the same time by a strange owl staring at them through their window.

As Tyler digs deeper and uses hypnosis to try to help her patients access their memories of what's disturbing their sleep, her methods have some unsettling results, and her search turns up some creepy evidence that alien abductions (or the "Fourth Kind" of alien contact) are going on in Alaska's northern-most city.

The Fourth Kind opens with straight-faced assertions from both its lead actor, Jovovich, and the writer and director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, that everything in the movie is based on documented events and that the video footage in the movie is real. The movie has some solid scares as it is, but if their claims of the authenticity of the footage is to be believed, this would be one of the most terrifying events I've seen in my life.

Given the extreme and almost conclusive nature and content of the "real" footage, this invariably leads to the question: If this is real, why have I never seen it or heard of it before? And why has it been relegated to a sci-fi / horror hybrid movie eight years after the fact?

The documentary footage is definitely suspect. The "real" Abigail Tyler, when shown in interview footage with Osunsanmi, looks like an alien herself, with a sallow, almond-shaped face and huge, constantly moist eyes. (She also looks nothing like Milla Jovovich.) The primary source material of video and audio tapes, which makes up the backbone of the most frightening portion of the movie, is invariably and conveniently scrambled or distorted at the very moment the visual would be most conclusive. Not to mention the fact that nobody in Nome has ever heard anything about the events or people depicted or documented in the movie.

The movie's assertions of validity force you ask yourself the question: How do you feel about the idea of being manipulated? Not by aliens, as the movie would like you to consider, but by a potentially unscrupulous filmmaker. Osunsanmi clearly feels that the claim that the documentary footage is real is essential to getting the gimmick of the movie to work, but by making the claim with such bravado, there is the unintended consequence of making it the primary focus of the movie and forcing people to start to make up their minds right away.

He also forces conversation or consideration about the movie away from anything except whether or not it is to be believed. As people don't like the idea of being duped by something that's so suspect, they will likely either roll their eyes at the assertions of validity or spend the length of the movie being creeped out and frightened, and then roll their eyes at the assertions of validity.

The distraction is unfortunate, because there are definitely some things about the movie that work. If you can get past your cynicism and accept the conceit, there are some wonderfully scary elements at work here, including a voice-activated micro-tape playback that made my skin crawl. The documentary footage has some of the most startling and potentially disturbing imagery and sound in recent memory. (Though I will admit, I have not seen Paranormal Activity.) Some of the gooses are aided by a booming sound mix on steroids, which is a cheap trick, sure, but effective none the less.

Assuming it's almost completely fabricated, and not an occasion to start wearing aluminum foil on your head and planing for the impending invasion, the movie works on its own as a scary alien abduction story with some pretty intense and frightening "real" footage. As a completely honest reenactment and presentation of documentary footage, it's a rough pill to swallow.

Unfortunately, the movie's attitude makes you feel like you have no choice but to choose a side and ends up pushing even those who enjoyed the movie into skepticism. Now, do you want to see my picture of the ghost that lives in the abandoned house on Forest Street? It's kinda fuzzy, but if you look real hard...

Matt Sameck

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