What Psycho did for showers, based-on-a-real-made-up-story alien-abduction “thriller” The Fourth Kind does for owls. Just kidding — that sentence is ridiculous. Owls are already creepy (see The Secret of NIMH), and Fourth Kind makes you laugh at them. You know how when you were a kid on Halloween some adults would make you stick your hands in a bowl of grapes and they’d tell you it was eyeballs? They’d ruin it by getting all Vincent Price: “Ooooh, feel the eyeballs of the dead!” But even as a kid, you knew that a real adult who actually filled a bucket with corpse eyeballs would be all excited and proud, like, “Behold the work of the lord, boy! It’s the beast covered with eyes from John’s book of Revelation! The seventh seal can now be opened!” And then you’d be all like, “No, Uncle Steve, I don’t want to be anointed with ram’s blood again!” Well you get the idea.
Anyway, The Fourth Kind makes the same mistake (not the ram’s blood part), and overplays its hand within the first minute. Milla Jovovich addresses the camera directly, as herself, to inform you she’ll be playing the part of Dr. Abigail Tyler, an actual psychologist investigating paranormal activities in Nome, Alaska, in re-enactments that will be interspersed with real-life footage from the case. It’s a novel trick (unless you’ve ever seen Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, et al.) that might work with a more somber tone, but when director Olatunde Osunsanmi puts Jovovich in front of a creepy, dark woods backdrop, and makes the camera orbit quickly around her, Jovovich might as well be holding a flashlight under her chin. More distracting is the way the faked “real-life” footage is played in simultaneous split-screen with the faked fake footage. The intended result is probably to make the supposed actual footage appear more realistic, but all it really does is remind you you’re watching a bunch of stuff some guy hastily threw together because horror movies are making money right now. The film is so over-the-top in its execution and so terrible at faking realism, it almost unintentionally becomes a kind of self-aware postmodern commentary on horror films (see Funny Games), but there’s nothing substantive here. The only real discussion this movie inspires is: “Why didn’t this go directly to DVD?” The only part of the movie that scared me was the swine-flu cough that seemed to be spreading throughout the audience during the film. If the invading alien overlords offer a real public health-care option, I’m totally switching teams. — Jeremy Martin