Sunday, 31 January 2010

Mila hates probing Uranus

The Fourth Kind
Cartman gets probed
The town of Nome, Alaska has allegedly been home to numerous unexplained deaths and disappearances over the years, far more than any other relatively similar town in the USA. Local residents are having trouble sleeping and under hypnosis they are seeing owls at their windows and then going all spasmy as they recount nasty things coming in to their rooms for a spot of anal probing ala Cartman in South Park. Okay…I made up that bit about anal probing. Right then, sounds like a case for Mulder and Scully. Or maybe Dr Bishop and Agent Dunham, or Torchwood, or…

Nope. We just get local psychiatrist and widowed mother of two Dr Abigail Tyler played by the lovely Mila Jovovich and some other weird looking unnamed actress pretending to be the real Dr Tyler in recordings inter-cut with the dramatisations of ‘actual’ events.

Now, I like this genre of movie. I enjoy the faked mockumentaries – especially when they are really good ones like Rec., Blair Witch, Cloverfield and the brilliant Paranormal Activity. So I was really hoping this would be something of equal stature. The idea of doing the same thing only with alien abduction is cool. It's a phenom that has pervaded our modern culture now for the past several decades, even if it is still mostly a joke to most or at best just a fun episode of The X Files. To the few who claim it really does happen to them, then I’d imagine it would be a very real and terrifying thing. The problem is science does have explanations for this phenomenon. There are many forms of sleep disorders and psychological problems that can produce the same effect in people. It is the same sort of thing that has been seen in so-called demonic possession over the centuries. Modern pop culture through films, books and TV has transformed many of these demons and monsters of old in to probing aliens and interdimensional entities and government conspiracies. Humans are weird and complicated creatures.

Anyway, this film pretends to be based on actual events and real people and their testimony. It creates a genuinely creepy idea of some kind of alien interference and experimentation on us poor earthlings – especially in Nome, Alaska. And I have no problem with that for a story. It’s a fun and spooky idea and for the most part the film creates a decent sense of confusion and helpless dread. My main problem is that the filmmakers go to such lengths to pretend this is all real, but then they go and make the scripting and acting and direction of the inter-cut ‘real’ footage so utterly unconvincing. It also gets downright annoying at times. From the very start I knew this was all one big lie. But when having to continually share split screen footage of bollocks on the left next to more bollocks on the right, I was fast losing patience. No. Stop it. You ain’t fooling anyone.

Afterwards, I poked around online just to confirm that it was indeed all bollocks. And, yes, to quote Arnie in Predator…”It’s all bulllshit. All of it.”

There is no Dr Tyler. Nome, Alaska has no more strange disappearances and occurrences than anywhere else in the US. In fact Nome has made complaints to Universal Pictures for trivialising real disappearances and real events (unrelated to aliens) that have affected their community. Still, I don’t really care about that. It’s dramatic licence to tell a story. I know the people of Barrow, Alaska got a bit upset about how their town was portrayed in the 30 Days of Night books and film. Suck it up, guys! I only care if it results in a good and effective film. And I say The Fourth Kind would have been better if they’d either just done a fully dramatised film of the story or made a proper mockumentary with ‘real’ footage ala Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and Rec. If done properly that could be a really freaky and powerful film. Instead we get an unconvincing and often annoying mishmash that, while often reasonably atmospheric in the dramatised bits, left me feeling rather cheated and distinctly unmoved by the whole affair.

However, in the movie's defence I really liked the inclusion of the whole ancient Sumerian angle. The idea of the aliens - or whatever they are - telling us how they are God, alluding to the fact that they may have actually created the human race for whatever reason, is cool. Not original at all, but cool. Maybe we are all just one big science experiment in a galactic high school somewhere. Of course there is always the angle to the story that Dr Tyler is basically nuts and has been doing something to the patients she puts under hypnosis. There is a bit of a mystery about how her husband actually died which gives a hint that she might not be all there. But this is only toyed with and the film expects us to accept the alien abduction theory as fact. Personally, I’d have preferred some more ambiguity. A conflict of people’s perception ala the excellent The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

The main cast is mostly okay. Mila is a solid actress and as lovely as ever and Elias Koteas is equally solid as her colleague and friend. But poor Will Patton as the local Sheriff just wanders through it all looking confused and angry – the Mark Wahlberg syndrome.

The basis is here for a much better film. It could have had the balls to delve a little deeper in to the phenomenon and its ambiguity in the way The Exorcism of Emily Rose did with the similar demonic possession thing. Or it could have just pulled back and pared down to a more basic and gruelling horror story such as The Exorcist or Paranormal Activity. Instead what we get is an ultimately unfulfilling messy hybrid. Forgettable fluff.

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