Elias Koteas would hate me. No matter how great an actor he is (and he is a great actor) or how accomplished he becomes, it is very hard not to imagine him with a hockey mask and a golf bag. He is like Frosted Mini-Wheats. The adult in me knows the guy has some of the most underrated acting chops ever; the kid in me watches films, such as The Fourth Kind, and screams “Pound their owl faces in with your cricket bat Casey Jones!”
He is so much more then the role of Casey, that still doesn’t erase the fact that he was a childhood hero to some of us. The first truly great “bad ass” delivered to my generation via an excellent kid’s movie. My point is that actors carry the baggage of past roles with them sometimes. That is expected, and fine, but this is why most “normal” mainstream movies, especially horror, don’t scare as much as they could. We are familiar with these people. Their faces are a constant visual reminder that it’s all make believe. When the step dad from Liar Liar saws his foot off, while you might be in shock at the concept, you know deep down that the Dred Pirate Roberts has still got ten toes. The Fourth Kind confuses me: why go through all the motions of watering down supposedly real footage with the baggage of Hollywood actors? Why even go so far as to blatantly make that part of the marketing campaign?
The Fourth Kind is going to be looked at as another “found footage” movie, especially in the recent wake of Paranormal Activity. However, two very big things separate it from the pack: the footage is supposedly real, and the footage was never lost. In short, this non-sequel-but-titled-confusingly-and-probably-deliberately-like-a-sequel to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is about a supposedly real psychologist, Dr. Abigail Tyler, who is investigating the strange occurrences of alien abductions in Nome, Alaska circa the year 2000. Milla Jovovich plays the title role of Dr. Tyler in the in-movie dramatization of the actual events. Elias Koteas and Will Patton act out the supposedly real events along side Jovovich, all of them doing an admirable job with what they have to work with. Now this is what makes this film so unique: it’s simultaneously shows us the real and the dramatized version of the doctor’s recorded sessions with the supposed alien abductees. The movie even goes so far as to often split the screen in half (or fourths!) and shows the real tape, versus the dramatization of the tape. In many ways it makes the same editing mistakes that Ang Lee’s Hulk did years ago. It is very unique, as I am not quite sure something like this has ever been done before, yet it is also very tiresome, confusing to the eyes, and like a giant exercise in futility. Why do we need Milla saying the same lines simultaneously with the real Abigail while they both are on screen? The answer is that we don’t. They fill in the gaps between the supposedly “actual footage” of the story with the Hollywood actors. One would assume that the gaps being filled in are from the mouth of the actual Abigail Tyler herself. So in conjunction with the “actual footage and audio” you are also getting dramatized accounts of what supposedly happened in between.
Why water it all down? Sure if you want to release this in theaters as a “film” you have to give people more then a Discovery Channel UFO special…or do you? I’ll admit that Paranormal Activity made me lose an entire night of sleep, probably for the first time in a decade. This being ever more embarrassing because I was fully aware that it was completely fake. That is not a critique of the movie, I am just saying that it got to me, and horror movies never do. It has something to do with this low budget genre. Any time where no “Hollywood” is present, and no sign of the “evil” is shown on camera it screws with the mind. If Paranormal Activity had showed the demon, I wouldn’t have lost a wink of sleep, if we saw the Blair Witch I probably wouldn’t have flinched, regardless of the quality of the beast (sorry Rick Baker.) The irony being, the less visceral the villain is, the more visceral the scares are. This brings me to all my questions concerning The Fourth Kind. If you have “actual footage,” in many ways similar to the “fake found footage” of Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch, why take all the piss out of it and inject heaps and mounds of Hollywood into its core, wasting all the time and money in the process? Then they go so far as to show them side by side, as if to say “SEE, LOOK, THEY MATCH!!!” As an audience member are we suppose to be thinking “yes, they do match, are the accurate performances what I am suppose to be focusing on?” Who wouldn’t rather just watch the straight up, untouched videos of these regression psychology sessions? I would, and it would be leaps and bounds more terrifying.
The backbone of the entire documentary/dramatization/film/docu-drama-film is a supposedly real interview with Dr. Tyler that happens long after the events in 2000. This interview footage, for me, was the scariest part of the experience. If all of this actually happened then this women has been completely put through the ringer, so I don’t want to outright insult something so trivial, but her face is disturbing. Really disturbing. In fact her facial features and shape are so “alien-esque” that I started to wonder if the twist of the whole Fourth Kind experience was going to be that it’s fake, then her face would start to distort CGI-style, then cut to credits. Her overall look and demeanor is what actually started to make me almost assuredly doubt the claims of the movie. She is perfectly emaciated and morbidly colored to the point where if they were making The Fourth Kind as a farce from the beginning they would have cast this woman and through makeup made her look exactly like she does. Also, while I can’t personally give any validity to its claims, this can be found in the trivia section of the film’s IMDB page:
According to promotional materials from Universal, the film is framed around a psychologist named Abigail Tyler who interviewed traumatized patients in Nome, but Alaska state licensing examiner Jan Mays says she can’t find records of an Abigail Tyler ever being licensed in any profession in Alaska. Ron Adler, CEO and director of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and Denise Dillard, president of the Alaska Psychological Association say they’ve never heard of Abigail Tyler.
One very questionable aspect of this whole ordeal to consider is what the term “Actual Footage” implies. The subtitles make constant note of when “actual footage” or audio is being presented. Actual footage? All footage is actual footage isn’t it? The footage of Jaws popping out of the water, in Jaws, is actual footage. Sure, maybe this is “actual footage” of a psychologist’s regression therapy session in 2000, but that has really no bearing on the fact that the people in the video aren’t simply actors. Yes, it is a bit ridiculous of me to assume this movie, this possible farce, was 9 years in the making, but if they are pulling on our leg hard enough to say these abductions are real, why would they sweat over saying that footage shot with an old camcorder in 2008 happened in 2000? It should simply be given consideration, due to the ease at which language is often used to deceive. Yes, it could just be nitpicking, and common sense should dictate that the “actual footage” is simply film or video stock that wasn’t shot with the intent of story telling.
***SPOILERS START HERE***
The “actual footage” itself is very creepy, however it felt produced. I obviously don’t know the truth, nor will I probably ever, but something about the video footage seemed perfectly imperfect. It’s hard to explain. When ever the patients start to recount what they think they saw, the video fills with distortion (supposedly caused by aliens.) However, there is just enough clarity in the distortion to tell what is happening, and what is happening seems very…cliché. We get loud, digitized, thundering voices, screams of terror, mouths opening extremely wide whilst howling, and a man levitating off a bed. While all of that is filled with the creeps, all of it is also very Hollywood. Also, perhaps it is just me, but it felt as though the mania happening beneath the distortion was digitally touched up. It is obviously very difficult to explain, some of the lighting in those shots just seemed manufactured, as often seen with special effects in the digital age. I am fully open to that not being the case.
***SPOILERS STOP HERE***
If there was a final assessment to make about The Fourth Kind it would be of a missed opportunity. They ladled too much Hollywood gravy all over this delicious, if synthetic, steak and made it just taste like wet salt. However, it would be interesting to find out this story from the point of view of the abductors. There’s a great Kids In The Hall sketch that involves the boring lives of aliens who spend every day anal probing abductees. They complain about their unfulfilling jobs as would a dock worker, or an office temp. That KITH skit was in my head during the entire duration of The Fourth Kind. As the human’s are tortured and screaming with nightmares and getting abducted, are the aliens just doing their boring day jobs?
Thanks for reading. Now go rent, buy, or watch a lot of Elias Koteas movies. He’s a great talent, you won’t regret it.
Now it’s time for a chicken sandwich.
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