Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Fourth Kind (2009)

“I am God!”

Er, you know how I was confessing in my last blog post that I’d never seen The Exorcist? Well, this is the point where I really can’t avoid confessing to not having seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind either. Please don’t tell anyone; they might take my movie reviewing licence off me. If it’s any consolation then I’m fully prepared to bang on a bit about the effect of The X-Files in reviving all this UFO stuff in both pop culture and conspiracy theories, and how this sort of thing all feels a bit ‘90s by now.

Still, this is a good film, which has been unfairly criticised. The film isn’t actually making claims about real UFO’s: the incident in this film was made up and was never claimed as truth by anyone outside of the film. This film isn’t doing anything substantially different from what Orson Welles did with The War of the Worlds in 1938. It’s cleverly done, with a carefully maintained distinction between a documentary style “reality” and the “reconstruction”, taking up most of the film, which is shot more like a conventional drama. Most major characters are therefore played by two actors, one of whom is much better looking than the other. Clever.

The plot is easy to follow while at the same time being multi-layered and gloriously metatextual. SPOILER ALERT, but the twist at the end, that we may or may not have an unreliable narrator, shakes everything up unexpectedly at the end. The backstory is the usual Erik Von Daniken / Graham Hancock stuff, with a lot about Sumerians and hints towards those old theories about Utnapishtim from The Epic of Gilgamesh being an alien, all of which is familiar enough to need not much exposition so we can get on with the suspense.

This film is utterly terrifying. You will never think of owls in the same way again. Best of all is the way that we never quite see the aliens, or learn more than hints about them and what they want. This isn’t just cheaper but also far more frightening than would have been achieved by actually showing them or fleshing out a backstory. Everything is perfectly pitched to generate just the right level of paranoia.

A few observations: most of the cast were unknowns, but I recognised Corey Johnson from his appearance in Doctor Who. This is the only film I know of to have been set in Alaska, which seems in itself to be a strange, and alien landscape where people must commute to work by private plane: think of the carbon emissions!

And the dialogue over the end credits is possibly the most evil ending to a film in the entire history of cinema.

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