There are, I believe, four ways to approach the new film, “The Fourth Kind.” These four approaches are derived from J. Allen Hynek’s system of classification for alien encounters. According to Hynek, THE FIRST KIND is the sighting of a UFO (unidentified flying object). THE SECOND KIND refers to the collection of material evidence of aliens, such as a crashed UFO. In making direct contact with aliens, one experiences THE THIRD KIND. And last, alien abduction—when they take you from your house and put you on their ship, and probably do things to you—constitutes THE FOURTH KIND.
When I saw the poster for the movie “The Fourth Kind” flying by on the side of a bus, I experienced the first kind. My perception of the film was merely fleeting. What is the movie called? “The Fourth Kid”? “Wicked”? What is that strange image on the poster? Is it an owl? No wait, is it an owl? It is an owl. Who directed the movie? I couldn’t make that out, since the writing was small. I kept walking. But the image of an owl became stuck in my head for a while. I was stirred by the possibility of a new film based on this poster.
When I watched the trailer on my friend’s computer, and then went to Rotten Tomatoes to read reviews of the film, I experienced the second kind: collecting more evidence that a film called “The Fourth Kind” might exist. I learned a lot about the film this way—that it is an experiment in meta-filmmaking (actors playing themselves as actors, who play “real people”), that it concerns THE FOURTH KIND of alien encounter, and that it garnered a whopping 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
When I saw the film with my friend Patricia we both experienced THE THIRD KIND. Our eyes made direct contact with the film for an hour and a half. The film communicated its content to my brain, and I communicated my desire to eat more popcorn by leaving the theater twice. I learned that the movie is about an Alaskan psychologist (Mila Jovovich) who investigates a string of coincidental night-scares shared by a number of residents in the small town of Nome. They all wake up around 3 a.m. and see an owl at their window (or is it inside?). To Jovovich, an owl seems unlikely. Let’s hypnotize these patients, she suggests. What will they see in the recesses of memory, stimulated by hypnosis?—no longer an owl, but an alien. Aha—but the unhappy patients refuse to tell the camera what they really saw (probably some kind of anal probe), and in their bottled-up pain lash out violently against their friends and neighbors. I also learned that the movie includes no images of aliens.
When I realized that I paid $10 to see the movie, and $4.50 for a small Sprite, I experienced THE FOURTH KIND. The movie lured me to its cavern, the movie theater, and took all the cash I had in my wallet. I was abducted from my residency on Princeton campus, taken far away to Route 1, and force-fed dozens of scenes in which very unhappy people refuse to relate their experience of THE FOURTH KIND, but are happy to cry about it. I was abducted by a film about aliens that shows no aliens (i.e. doesn’t deliver the goods). I was supposed to be stirred by a horror movie whose creators seem firmly to believe that grainy, handheld footage is inherently terrifying (see “The Blair Witch Project” for a less abusive use of the technique). Best of all, I was expected to buy the premise that the whole story was absolutely true. At the beginning of the film Mila Jovovich tells us that she is going to play the psychologist in a series of reenactments of real events. Some of the footage you are about to see is highly disturbing, she warns, as the camera whooshes around her restlessly (another gripe: if anyone can identify a single shot in the film, save the grainy stuff, that is not moving left or right or up or down, call me). Thanks for the warning, Ms. Jovovich, but I didn’t see an alien for even a Mila second.