Monday, May 3, 2010

Fake-You-mentaries: Ruining Alien Belief Since 2009

In 2009, writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi released his film The Fourth Kind, a supernatural thriller that insisted it was “based on true events.” The title refers to a measurement of alien encounters: an encounter of the fourth kind implies alien abduction. The film generated interest in the notion that the actors' performances were based directly from recorded evidence of a town plagued by abduction. The only plague, though, seems to be the film itself, whose devotion to validating its authenticity does nothing but ruin any merit it may have had.

As a believer in extraterrestrial life, I was excited by the idea that circumstantial evidence shaped this film. And there are aspects that are, in fact, true: the city of Nome, Alaska, where the story takes place suffers from an abnormally large number of missing persons reports, the cause of which remains unknown. Using the ambiguity behind this fact, Osunsanmi built his film around a falsified psychological research project conducted in the area in 2000 by Dr. Abigail Tyler, portrayed by Milla Jovovich. Dr. Tyler is continuing to study case-by-case sleep deprivation in the city of Nome, despite the recent, disturbing death of her husband. She finds strange and unsettling patterns within her case studies: her patients are blacking out around 3:30 every morning, and report being watched by a white owl. Hypnosis reveals that the residents of Nome are being plagued seemingly not by sleep deprivation but by frequent visits, observation and abduction by alien life.

We are not unfamiliar with being deceived with the plainly stated disclaimer at the beginning of movies. “The film you are about to see is based on true events.” Experience has taught us that this is often a misnomer, and filmmakers can and will lie to us for their own profit. Which is fine! Using “collected video evidence” from some mysterious vault, Osunsanmi wants us to believe that his actors are simulating, scene-for-scene, events that took place nearly a decade ago in this desolate Alaskan city.

Instead of briefly cutting to the “archived footage” from time to time, the film uses a split-screen method to assure us that the reenactments by Jovovich and other actors are word-for-word; you hear and see both the “footage” and the reenactments, aired side by side. This happens not just once, or twice, or a handful of times in the film, but in nearly every scene.

This would be neat if the events were in fact true and it was in fact footage. But it’s not. It’s like they made the same film twice. It’s like they could have just released a movie with exclusively the “footage” of the “real” Abigail Tyler and the interviews and experiences she endured, and it would have fared far better than this piece of over-intimated bullshit. Instances that should have been implicitly terrifying were rendered nearly unwatchable because you were watching duplications of the same scene, paired right beside each other.

Following the film’s release, ardent investigation by film and psychology pundits alike determined that Dr. Abigail Tyler is in all probability just a fabricated woman, played by a relatively unknown actress named Charlotte Milchard – no such sleep study was ever conducted. The film is not a reenactment of true events, it is sensationalized by the idea that it is a reenactment of true events. The evidence used is just as fictionalized as anything else about the film. Which --- okay. That’s all well and good. Many films have operated under the “truth” pretense without actually being true, and have moved successively through the years as valued pieces of art. The fundamental problem with The Fourth Kind is that it’s obsessed with manipulating its viewers. This has resulted in two versions of the same film, played at the same time. I hope no one ever attempts this style again.

I did my own investigation, and people familiar with or residing in Nome, Alaska do attest that there are a lot of missing people, more than there ought to be in one small town. But it is attributed to the combination of the dangerous, seething coastline and the location of bars dotted along said coastline; people are getting too drunk and stumbling off cliffs into the teeming ocean below, not being captured by white owls who are actually aliens. And for once, after sitting through this film, that explanation is far more palatable.

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