Some films are best approached without knowing anything about it. The Fourth Kind is such a film, so unless you really want to know, I advise to watch first, read after. I found this film through the small buzz it generated online but paid little attention to it until finally the occasion presented itself to watch the film. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised with the result.
Film is make-belief, by nature. But once in a while a director tries to trick his audience into actually believing they're watching something real. Just think Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust. Enter The Fourth Kind, which goes head to head with Paranormal Activities to win best 2009 entry in this specific category. And while I was bored to death by Paranormal Activities, The Fourth Kind goes way beyond and does a way better job at succeeding in its goals.
The setup of the film is pretty much brilliant. Rather than play the "found footage" card, Osunsanmi makes his film a re-enactment of archive footage, enriched with audio fragments and the so-called actual archive material. He turns his film into a sensationalist TV-show creating a strange and new sense of reality. This draws away the attention from faults in the recorded material which effectively destroyed a film like Paranormal Activities.
The story is that of a little town in Alaska, coping with a series of abductions over a pretty long period of time. Abigail Tyler is a psychologist continuing the work of her late husband, looking into the strange disappearances. Through several of her sessions we learn that a good few people in the town suffer from insomnia, linked to the appearance of an rather ominous owl. That's when things start to go wrong for Dr Tyler.
Visually it's a pretty interesting film. By using split screens to show both archive footage and re-enacted footage in the same shot, Osunsanmi manages to slip in a sense of realness that would've been lost otherwise. On top of that, he is still able to use some cool tricks and effects in the re-enacted footage so the audience doesn't have to sit through 90 minutes of interviews and amateur camera work. A perfect trade-off.
The soundtrack is pretty cool too, with atmospheric audio fragments running together with the regular scenes. Again it creates a certain sense of reality that logically shouldn't be there. The score itself is decent enough, but nothing too spectacular. Typical moody background music usually found in a film like this. Acting is strong and believable in the realm of the film. Seeing how there's different layers of reality though, it's actually a bit tricky to get a firm grip on the quality of the actors' performances.
While the idea of The Fourth Kind isn't too original, the execution surely is. It's pretty much a hit and miss affair which will win as much supporters as it will spawn haters, but for me it worked miraculously well. Watching the film knowing that it's all a big hoax is like watching a cunning trick revealed. Osunsanmi aims sharp when he tries to fool his audience and makes his film into a enthralling experience.
Best to judge for yourself though. How you go into the film will have a big influence on your appreciation. If you don't like the trick Osunsanmi is pulling you'll quite probably hate it. But if you go along with it, emerging yourself in the mystery of the little town, there are plenty of creepy and uneasy scenes to be enjoyed. Essentially The Fourth Kind is a splendid "less is more" horror flick, though Osunsanmi's trickery is actually anything but "less is more".