Oh how we want to believe—we ache to believe.
It's one thing to have one of our favorite SF hotties, Milla Jovovich, walking through a forest with a camera spinning around her as she explains, even warns, that the information in this movie is all documented and based on fact. (And she's downright scary when she says, "What you are about to see is intensely disturbing.")
It's quite another thing entirely to sprinkle the movie's re-enactments with grainy video that purports to be the never-before-seen footage of a psychiatrist's patients who claim to be alien abductees.
Frankly, this movie is quite scary when it's viewed with the idea that this is the film version of creepy disappearances that are really happening in Nome, Alaska. When it's not that, it's almost laughable.
Unfortunately, Jovovich isn't running away from zombies in scanty outfits, as in the Resident Evil series. In this film she's playing a psychiatrist named Dr. Abigail Tyler, who is tenaciously fighting the idea that her husband was killed and her daughter was taken by creatures from another planet.
It's not until well into the movie that she actually discusses contact of the "fourth kind." Of course, we all know the stages: the first kind is a sighting of a UFO, the second kind is evidence on the ground or something left behind, the third kind is actually contact, and the fourth kind is abduction. These are events that supposedly all happened during a week in October 2000.
When you do a little bit of research on the Internet and Google "Dr. Abigail Tyler" or even Nome's UFO sightings, not much comes up. You find out that this is not a celebrated case by ufologists, and it isn't big in the lore of abduction theorists, and so the movie loses its frightening aspect and becomes an oddly irritating series of re-enacted scenes with lame dialogue by characters who are afraid of an owl outside their windows.
The once-realistic bio page that was put up on GoDaddy not long ago has since been taken down, perhaps because it's not really legal to pretend like you're a doctor.
Offering the audience the chance to "make the decision yourself about what really happened," this pseudo-documentary style of presenting information shows a very skinny Dr. Tyler with a pale face, dark circles under her eyes and straggly hair. That woman is shown in supposedly real interviews and hypnotic sessions that are then re-created by Jovovich and the more recognizable cast members such as Elias Koteas and Will Patton. Sometimes the bad video, or the police car footage, or the audio tapes are shown in split screen (or even four-screen) shots that have the incidents being shown in the real situation and in the re-enactment.
The movie begins with Dr. Tyler (both the "real" and the Jovovich kind) shown under hypnosis as she recalls an attack on her husband one night after they make love, but she can't see the face of the culprit. Then she discovers that her husband has been researching an ancient language, and they have been interviewing patients in Nome who all talk about an owl that is keeping them awake at night.
Suddenly, one of the patients has a breakthrough and breaks a lamp in the process, when under hypnosis he realizes that the owl is not really an owl but a visitor who is at the front door, but oh no, it's horrible, it's terrible, it's too scary, he can't see it, he can't describe it. He'll wait until the next session.
Instead, he goes home that night and kills his family. That sequence is perhaps the most disturbing, because there is pretty realistic blurred footage of the cops' arrival at the scene and a guy boarded up inside a house with his family at gunpoint, shouting and shooting at the police. It's intense as the actors do their own version of the grainy cop footage on the screen and he calls for his psychiatrist.
Another one of the scariest moments is when Dr. Tyler's secretary is unnerved about transcribing an audio version of her notes and there's a scuffle and voices that the doctor doesn't remember. There's a chilling wail on the tape and unearthly voices in what turns out to be an ancient language.
This seems to be a trend in movies these days to blur "real stories" with fiction, much as in The Blair Witch Project and The Strangers. This movie takes an extra step into outright fraud, however, by even constantly reminding us (in scrolls) that this is the real recording, and this is the actor playing the real person, etc.
Yet, it's scary, not because things jump out at you or there's a chase, but in that bone-chillingly haunting way.
The unsung hero in all this is the uncredited actress who is the "real" Dr. Abigail Tyler in the interview footage. She's the one who deserves an Oscar.