“The Fourth Kind” (2009) is a chilling docudrama which explores the supernatural in a gripping and challenging way. It opens with actress Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil series, 2002-) addressing the audience directly, stating that this film is based on true case studies, using never-seen-before archive footage, and warns that what follows may be disturbing.
We go into the archive of an interview with Dr Emily Tyler, the psychiatrist whose testimony this film follows, and Olatunde Osunsanmi, the film’s writer and director. This interview narrates the film as we see the re-enactment of her story, alongside actual footage of psychiatric interviews about paranormal goings-on in a secluded town in North America.
Set in Nome, Alaska, Emily Tyler (Jovovich) takes on the psychiatric work of her husband who had mysteriously died, trying to solve what is causing many patients in the small town to wake up in the middle of the night to be met by the same white owl, many of whom eventually going missing. We see disturbing scenes, using an interesting split-screen technique showing both archive and dramatised footage, in which several patients are put under hypnosis. They proceed to become possessed by an unknown entity, losing their motor skills and speaking in Samarian, an ancient, Biblical language. With the help of a colleague and a Samarian expert, she attempts to try and find out what is causing the strange goings on in the town of Nome.
What distinguishes this film from other supernatural thrillers is the claim that it is based on a testimony of real people (their names and identities are omitted in the film), and real events. There are many theories on what is in fact causing the strange goings on — coincidence that Nome has a lot of unfortunate events; that the hypnosis therapy on mentally unstable patients causes hallucinations and insanity; that demonic possession was unusually high in this secluded part of the world, hence the Biblical language — however, the film-makers blame these happenings on alien abduction, the film title alluding to the different kinds of alien contact: the first kind being UFO sightings, going to the fourth kind — alien abduction.
This film, including hard evidence of the supernatural, poses some challenging questions: are we alone in the universe? Are we alone in the spiritual world? But the main question I ask is what should we make of the film’s claim to be true to life?
The film is in a much dramatised style, it could easily stand alone as a horror/thriller without the added archive footage, making it seem very fictional. If the producers truly wanted to portray it as truth, why not make a documentary, in the style of Touching the Void (2003) or Man on Wire (2008), which both claim to be true, and back this up with interviews and a heavy amount of archive?
As a fictional dramatic piece, the film was gripping and kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Milla Jovovic puts in an impressive performance, as does Mia McKenna-Bruce who stood out, playing Tyler’s blind daughter. A heavy use of handheld camera gives a slightly realistic effect, but can get a little too much at times, for example one shot which is from the viewpoint of Tyler’s cheek.
After a bit of research, I learnt that the beautiful setting in Nome is in fact filmed in Sofia, Bulgaria, and that Emily Tyler may not even exist. A lot of doubt still hangs over “The Fourth Kind” as to what challenges it poses and how true this story really is. In the end, it was a good thriller, it kept the audience guessing and certainly gets an emotion out of viewers. Unfortunately, the ambiguous claims of truth have put me off. As Jovovic and Osunsanmi reiterate at the end: “Believe what you will…”