When considering the spooky questions raised by the science-fiction/horror docu-fiction The Fourth Kind, it’s helpful to remember Occam’s Razor, the logical principle that rejects unnecessarily complex theories when trying to arrive at an explanation for a phenomenon. Take the case of Dr. Abigail Tyler, a Nome, Alaska psychologist played by Milla Jovovich in the dramatized sequences, and appearing as “herself” (if she exists at all, which she almost certainly doesn’t) in documentary-ish segments. A disproportionate number of people in her city have disappeared under odd circumstances over the past 40 years, and under hypnosis, several of her patients are telling remarkably similar stories about strange visions, burn marks, and other middle-of-the-night traumas. And to that, add her own husband, whose violent death is another unsolved mystery. There are two competing theories at play. The first: Hostile aliens, speaking in the ancient Sumerian language, are abducting people, subjecting them to torturous probes and experiments, and eventually murdering them or stealing them off forever. The second: Dr. Tyler is a total moonbat.
The makers of The Fourth Kind want viewers to come to their own conclusions about the veracity of Dr. Tyler’s account, but unless they’re really gullible, Occam’s Razor (or plain ol’ common sense) should clear up any ambiguity. It’s part of the film’s truth-or-fiction conceit that the questions linger, but the transparent gimmickry—evidenced on the film’s Wikipedia page, where editors have battled over its “factual” elements—gives the game away. Mixing hundreds of hours of documentary audio and video footage (apply quote marks where applicable) with dramatic reenactments (quote marks there, too), The Fourth Kind follows Jovovich’s Tyler as she tries to get to the bottom of her patients’ experiences and her husband’s death while deflecting doubters like Will Patton’s grizzled detective. Elias Koteas plays the audience surrogate, another therapist who’s skeptical of her claims, but open to persuasion.
Writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi, who appears in interview segments with the probably fictional Tyler, gets off a few good shocks in the documentary footage, and Tyler strikes the classic profile of an Unsolved Mysteries subject. But from the opening scene, which has Jovovich doing her best Rod Serling impression, The Fourth Kind is terminally awkward in the way it meshes fake real footage with faker fake footage. It isn’t required to be convincing as fact, but it doesn’t convince as fiction, either.