NOVEMBER 4, 2009
I was recently tasked with picking my top 20 horror films of the decade (who wants to guess my number #1? Hint: it rhymes with “Resent”), and one title that almost made the cut was 2002’s The Mothman Prophecies, a vastly underrated chiller about a town that keeps reporting sightings of a man that looks like a giant moth. As it turns out, his presence was merely trying to warn them about a disaster (falling bridge), which is far more interesting than say, the climax of Dragonfly, which was a similar film but the title character there was just trying to tell Kevin Costner where he could find his kid (too bad the Dragonfly didn’t try to help out the folks in Vinyan. We’d all be better off). I bring the movie up because The Fourth Kind reminded me a bit of Mothman at times, and I thought it was going for a similar thing where the aliens (or owls) were premonitions of something. But alas, it was something else.
In fact, the climax of the film is... nothing. It just sort of stops. Milla Jovovich (in her first “normal person” role in years) is allegedly abducted and then returned, where she is told how her husband really died (hint: not alien related), and then the audience has to decide if ANY of this alien stuff was real or if Milla is just crazy. So was she not abducted? Where did she go? Who knows. More importantly, who cares? The movie is so hellbent on making the audience go “Ooooh, neat!” that it forgets to put an actual story or a few real characters in the middle of all its gimmickry.
The main gimmick, as you can probably surmise from the trailers, is that writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi will often play the “real” footage in a split screen along with the re-enactments, a decent enough idea that is overplayed by the end of the first act, and continues throughout the film. Why he couldn’t just trust his audience to remember that we were watching re-enactments is beyond me, and it’s the film’s primary problem. I would have opted for a 13th Warrior type deal (where we watch him “learn” their language and then we just hear everything in English), where you sort of phase in the concept and then let us watch it in peace, without being constantly reminded of it. Worse, the split screen line keeps drifting back and forth (as my buddy put it - “they are fighting over who has more screen space”), which just adds to the film’s other major problem.
And that would be the camerawork. Whenever someone in the film brought out a camcorder in order to film a session, I would mentally scream for the character to give his tripod to Osunsanmi. I don’t mind shaki-cam in general, but it’s way overdone and completely pointless here. Even simple talking scenes are jittering around like a Bourne Supremacy action sequence, and Osunsanmi also tosses in unnecessary 360s, nonsensical crane shots, and lots and lots of helicopter shots of the town. I don’t expect much from a guy whose only other film is a DTV knockoff of The Cave called The Cavern, but how he managed to convince a major studio to give him a large chunk of change to film the movie like this is nothing short of miraculous, and would likely make for a better story than the one here.
Another big problem is the acting, though I will put more of the blame on Osunsanmi's lousy writing than the actors. Even Will Patton stinks as the town’s sheriff (and just last week I had claimed he was always a guaranteed bright spot in an otherwise bad film), and Jovovich doesn’t fare much better as a psychiatrist (Ass-kicking heroine? Yes. Someone I would go to and discuss my mother issues? No.). And the woman playing the “real” Abigail Tyler is atrocious; apparently her way of acting troubled is to merely speak. Like. This. Throughout. The. Film. And Osunsanmi plays himself interviewing her, and he’s as stiff as a board. So you end up with “real” footage that seems more fake than the re-enactment stuff, resulting in a completely fruitless execution of a decent idea.
And while this is minor in the grand scheme of things, the on-screen text guy is a bit too in love with his work. Not only does he repeatedly remind us with a “Voice of Abigail Tyler” graphic every time we hear her voice (even when it had only been a few seconds since she last spoke), but the end of the film features what has to be a world record for epilogue text, going on and on about each character, the town of Nome, Alaska (why are all Alaska based genre films about some sort of investigation?), and whether or not the “real” people would participate in the film. If Universal and Osunsanmi were really clever/committed, they would have had a tie-in book that purported to be real (not unlike "The Blair Witch Dossier") so that people who dug this shit would have even more fake “update information” to enjoy. It could also help to make the end a bit less laughable, as you are presented with three straight minutes of text instead of “for more, go read the book”.
Oh, and the goofy “Hello, I am actress Milla Jovovich...” scene is actually in the movie. I thought it was something they shot just for the trailer, but nope, it’s in there, swirly camerawork and false promises (“some of what you are about to see is incredibly disturbing”) and all. I haven’t been that baffled since Waterworld actually began with Trailer Guy saying “The polar ice caps have melted...”
I really hope in 20 years someone remakes this and does it more intelligently. To be fair, the film starts with Jovovich telling us that we have to make up our own mind as to the legitimacy of what we are seeing, so I can’t knock it for its un-alien-y conclusion. The real problem is, neither the ‘real’ or ‘fake’ footage ever feels genuine, resulting in an experiment that never once works. And even if you took out all the docu-stuff, you’d still be left with a theoretically interesting premise trapped in a lousy movie.
What say you?
P.S. Can we PLEASE give the dundunDUNDUNdundunDUNDUN type scores a rest? See: also Whiteout, the Bourne films, etc... they are really getting on my nerves and always seem to be played over entire reels of the films that they accompany. It worked for Bourne (at least at first, by Ultimatum it was getting tiresome), because of those films’ energy - something these others do not possess.