With the Saw films firmly on the ice flow of sequels toward apocalypse, the question I keep coming back to is, “where are horror films going to go from here?” Saw, and its subsequent imitators, satisfied the bloodlust of modern horror audiences for a time, but the cycle of desensitization continues and if horror films are no longer striving to gross out the public, it is once again time for them to break new ground. It appears that horror is now targeting the fourth wall to achieve that purpose and The Fourth Kind champions the concept.
It strikes me as appropriate that this film should be released on the heels of the sensational Paranormal Activity. Both are movies that attempt to breakdown that invisible barrier of disbelief that detaches an audience from the terror on screen. Both claim to be based on a true story which, again, eliminates that safety net of it being “just a movie”. But The Fourth Kind takes even that idea to the next level by actually incorporating video and audio recordings from the actual incident into the fictionalized account starring Milla Jovovich and Will Patton. They are working so hard to blur the line between fiction and reality that there are literally moments when the line in the split screen dividing the two segments wanders to and fro. I have to admit, at first I scoffed at this concept. When Milla comes out at the beginning and informs us what we are about to see is both real and very disturbing, I thought I smelled the distinct aroma of a William Castle gimmick. To me, it felt like someone had finally found a way to adapt a segment of “Unsolved Mysteries” into a film. I actually kept waiting for the disembodied spirit of Robert Stack to pop up and narrate the events while standing next to a creepy streetlight.
But the fact is that the images in The Fourth Kind are among the most disturbing that I have ever seen. The film is about a psychologist who is convinced that several of her patients have been victims of alien abduction. They all report eerily similar symptoms and they are all having trouble sleeping though they don’t know why. Under hypnosis, they become shockingly unstable and exhibit a level of panic and fear like I have never seen. It’s actually in the hypnosis scenes, where we get to see the footage of the “actual” patients where the freakiest shit occurs. It was kind of like Paranormal Activity meets Signs, so do with that what you will. All I know is that, even as I sit and remember these moments, the hairs on my arms are standing at attention. I found it inescapably haunting and chilling like few other horror films can deliver.
I fear that people are going to get bogged down in the debate over how much of the footage is actually genuine and, indeed, if this entire story is fabricated. Personally, I think it’s completely inconsequential to the experience of the film. I honestly don’t believe the footage we are seeing is authentic, there are lines of dialogue that completely negate that, but that didn’t prevent me from sitting slack-jawed and bug-eyed at what I was seeing. In fact, I think one of the big problems with this film is how staunchly it proclaims to be real. The movie tries so hard to convince you it is legit, but then shoots down its own credibility with bad dialogue and a hoaky credit sequence featuring actual yokels calling 911 to report UFO’s. Riveting, if stupid. I think the film would have done better to tone down their assertions and let the audience decide how much they want to believe (even though the last line Milla speaks is “what you choose to believe is up to you). No Milla, don’t pretend you are giving us a choice after cramming picture-in-picture “evidence” down our throats.
The Fourth Kind is a solid film with some great scares and horrifying images. If the story is true, then it definitely deserved to be told. If this is all in the name of meta-horror, then we can still appreciate the artistry that went into crafting such a badass film. If nothing else, this will make you realize that anal probes are not the scariest part of alien abduction. Cue the “X-Files” theme.
The Upside: Really disturbing images that will prompt the perfect level of fright.
The Downside: Really should have just been a fake documentary; the facile assertion that it is a true story will be its downfall.
On the Side: The film’s producers went so far as to insert references to Dr. Tyler, who never existed, into websites such as the “Alaska Psychiatric Journal”. This film out Blair Witches The Blair Witch Project.