The Fourth Kind
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Nome, Alaska, isn’t the easiest of places to visit. Located just a wee bit south of the Arctic Circle, Nome is closer to Russia than it is to Anchorage. The average high temperature in January is a miserly 13.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and the city gets several fathoms of snow each year. The famous Iditarod dog race finishes up in Nome because, once upon a time, dogs were about the only living things that could find the place.
Well, if you’re not counting the aliens, of course.
Aliens, we surmise from The Fourth Kind, love Nome. Perhaps it’s because the city gets so few visitors, and extraterrestrials don’t want the residents to feel neglected. Perhaps they just like the brisk air. But there’s no question about the fact that they gravitate to this town, visiting several—perhaps scores—of residents every night to play party games.
"Stick Sharp Objects Into the Humanoid" is one of their favorites.
The aliens take precautions to make sure residents don’t remember their little visits. So most of the folks in Nome (Nomidians? Nomarians? Nomish? Nomads?) think their restless sleep is due to owls hooting outside windows.
But when local psychiatrist Dr. Abbey Tyler gets tired of hearing all her patients complain about owls session after session, she begins to wonder: How many creepy owls can one town hold? So she decides to hypnotize one of them (her patients, not the owls) to figure out who is behind it all.
The results are less than comforting. Tommy, the fellow she hypnotizes, panics and leaps around Abbey’s office like a terrified gazelle. When he finally snaps out of the trance, he refuses to talk about it. "I didn’t see anything," Tommy tells Abbey.
That evening, Tommy goes home and kills his family before turning the gun on himself.
The Fourth Kind is presented as a dramatization of supposedly real events that took place in Nome, circa 2000. The narration is interspersed with what we’re told is archival footage from therapy sessions, police tapes and interviews.
[Note: The following sections include spoilers.]
Abbey is struggling mightily with the sudden death of her husband—who violently met his end in bed a couple of months earlier with her right beside him—and she’s trying to hold her family together under the most trying of circumstances.
She deeply loves both her sullen son and her quiet daughter, who, mysteriously, went blind the night Dad died. She’ll do anything to protect them and safeguard them—including risking some serious alien wrath.
Abbey prays with her family before dinner, asking blessings for the food and help for the family to get past the grief. She concludes with, "In Jesus’ name we pray."
The aliens are not so pious. Indeed, there’s a suggestion that Earth’s collective civilization came as a result of alien contact, and they’ve gotten pretty high-and-mighty about it.
An expert in dead languages hears a recording of the aliens speaking and realizes they’re chatting in ancient Sumerian—a language that flourished, we’re told, 4,000 years before the Bible was written (an erroneous statement, by the way: Sumeria came early, but not quite that early). The scholar tells us that much of Genesis is made up of modified Sumerian myths and that Sumerian art is filled with what appears to be rocket ships and men wearing spacesuits. Aliens sometimes babble about their "creation" and their right, perhaps, to destroy it.
The extraterrestrials also have the power to temporarily possess people: Abbey, trying to get the aliens to hand over her abducted daughter, allows herself to be hypnotized, giving the aliens access to her body. While she hollers at the visitors to let her daughter go, they tell her—through her own mouth—they plan to do no such thing. Though the translation is garbled, the indication is that they’re all-powerful beings who can do whatever they want. They are the "savior," "father" and "God."
Abbey has her doubts. During a documentary-style interview in which actress Milla Jovovich steps aside for the "real" Abbey Tyler (actually another, uncredited actress), we’re told that the aliens made her feel hopeless—a not-very godly feeling.
"It cannot be God," she says. "But it can pretend to be."
Abbey and her husband, Will, were engaged in lovemaking shortly before he died. She says it was "nice, so nice," and we see a flashback of them in bed together, kissing and moving around—not explicit, but intended to be soft and sensual.
When Abbey recalls her own abduction experience—perhaps one of many—through hypnosis, we see an instrument positioned between her legs. The camera doesn’t show what the instrument does, but it does show Abbey (in "archival" footage) reacting as if it violates her.
The Fourth Kind generally accepts the idea that the images your brain can imagine are ever so much worse than the ones moviemakers can paint onscreen.
That said, it still shows us quite a bit.
Abbey’s recollection of her husband’s death is graphically portrayed; blades skewer the man’s chest several times. The blades are, by design, a bit surreal, looking at times as if they’re coming up through the chest, rather than being thrust down into it. Abbey, reliving the event through hypnosis, is understandably horrified by the blood and tragedy. "It’s all over me," she sobs again and again.
We learn later that Will was not killed by an unseen assailant, but rather committed suicide—shooting himself in the head. The point is driven home by an autopsy photo.
When Tommy takes his wife and two children hostage, we hear gunshots and his wife pleading during a (supposedly real) 911 call. We also see (again, supposedly real) police footage of the hostage standoff and Tommy firing his weapon. (The children are shot offscreen, and the police footage is pixelated to partially obscure the rest of the gory details.)
We’re told that aliens, while possessing a man, snapped three of his vertebrae, paralyzing him from the neck down. We see people writhing, contorting and screaming. In dream-like sequences Abbey is dragged across her bedroom floor (leaving fingernail scratches in the wood) by shadowy creatures. Onboard the alien ship, we see glittering instruments, many of which apparently penetrate Abbey’s body, one drilling into her shoulder. (We don’t see the actual operation.)
Crude or Profane Language
Four s-words and several uses of "h‑‑‑" and "d‑‑n." God’s name is misused about a dozen times (four times with "d‑‑n"), and Jesus’ is abused once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Abbey drinks wine with dinner.
Other Negative Elements
Abbey’s having loads of trouble relating to her son, and he sometimes snaps at her disrespectfully. Abbey makes preparations to run away to North Carolina with her kids. And if she’s just trying to get out of Nome and away from the aliens, we applaud her good sense. But if she’s running away because one of her patients snapped his back while under the influence of her hypnosis? Well, that’s less laudable.
One of her patients, following a disturbing trip through hypnotherapy, throws up in a trashcan.
How real is the archival footage used in The Fourth Kind? About as real as the note I have from its director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, telling me I get to star in the sequel.
But that doesn’t mean its makers don’t try very, very, very hard to make you believe it’s real. It plays with your mind from the very beginning, when Milla Jovovich trots out onscreen and dutifully informs us that she’ll be playing the "real life" Dr. Abigail Tyler. And it holds firmly to the facade throughout, offering cut-screen montages featuring, on one side, the actors we know are actors, and on the other, supposed archival footage. And even as the credits roll, it features what sound like real 911 recordings of real UFO sightings.
This masquerade, where fiction tries to become fact, is nothing new, of course. Writers in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries often concocted their most fantastical stories under the guise of secret "diaries" recently discovered. And you probably remember hearing about The War of the Worlds broadcast that scared the living daylights out of millions back in 1938.
The Fourth Kind, then, is part Blair Witch Project, part Sixth Sense, part Exorcist and a whole lotta B-movie schlock—the kind H.G. Wells and Orson Welles would’ve absolutely loved.
That’s not the end of the story, though. Because today, when many people see truth as subjective and subjectivity as a sort of truth, when "reality" television blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, and when many TV sitcoms glibly embrace a documentary vibe, The Fourth Kind will be simultaneously scorned and believed—sometimes by the same person at the same time.
Weird, isn’t it? What does that kind of commingled cynicism and acceptance do to us psychologically? I’ll leave the answer to that to the experts—who hopefully won’t hypnotize me to find it out.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Milla Jovovich as Abbey Tyler; Will Patton as Sheriff August; Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Awolowa Odusami; Corey Johnson as Tommy Fisher; Elias Koteas as Abel Campos
Olatunde Osunsanmi ( )
November 6, 2009
March 16, 2010