The film is a mockumentary, purporting to be based on real events occurring in Nome, Alaska in 2000, in which psychologist Dr. Abigail Emily "Abbey" Tyler uses hypnosis to uncover memories from her patients of alien abduction, and finds evidence suggesting that she may have been abducted as well. The film has two components: dramatization, in which professional actors portray the individuals involved, and video footage purporting to show the 'actual' victims undergoing hypnosis. (At some points in the film, the "actual" and dramatized footage is presented alongside each other in split-screen.) Throughout the film, Abbey is shown being interviewed on television in 2002, two years after the abductions occurred.
The film was largely panned by critics but made US$47.71 million in cinemas worldwide.
Chapman University hosts a televised interview with psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich/Charlotte Milchard). She tells a story of a close encounter incident at Nome, Alaska, in October 2000.
In August 2000, Tyler's husband, Will (Yulian Vergov), is mysteriously murdered one night in his sleep, leaving her to raise their two children, Ashley (Mia Mckenna-Bruce) and Ronnie (Raphael Coleman).
Tyler tapes hypnotherapy sessions with three patients who have the same experience: every night a white owl stares at them through their windows. Tyler hypnotizes two of them, and both recount similar terrifying stories of creatures attempting to enter their homes. Tommy Fisher (Corey Johnson), her first patient to go under hypnosis, refuses to admit what he sees and returns home. Later that night, Abbey is called by the police to Tommy's house, where she finds him holding his wife and their two children at gunpoint. He insists that he remembers everything and keeps asking what "Zimabu Eter" means. Despite Abbey's attempts to get Tommy to put his gun down, he shoots his family and turns the gun on himself.
After hearing the similarities in the accounts of nightly occurrences, Abbey suspects these patients may have been victims of a non-human kidnapping. There is evidence that she herself may have been abducted, when an Assistant gives her a tape recorder, which plays her voice and the sound of something with a distorted electronic voice entering her home and attacking her. It speaks in an unknown tongue; Abbey, though, has no memory of it. Dr. Abel Campos (Elias Koteas), a colleague from Anchorage, is suspicious of the claims. Later, Tyler calls upon Dr. Awolowa Odusami (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), a specialist in ancient languages who was a contact of her late husband, to identify the mysterious language on the tape. Odusami identifies it as Sumerian.
Another, more willing patient named Scott (Enzo Cilenti) wishes to communicate. He admits that there was no owl and speaks of "them", but cannot remember anything further, but does say that he knows why Tommy did what he did. Later, he insists she come to his home to hypnotize him, to get something seemingly horrific out of his head. But while he is under, he suddenly jerks upright and begins hovering above his bed, while a distorted electronic voice coming out of his mouth tells Dr. Tyler in Sumerian to immediately end her study. Later, Sheriff August (Will Patton) arrives, telling her that Scott had three upper vertebrae completely severed from his experience, and was completely paralyzed. The Sheriff tries to arrest her, but Dr. Campos comes to her defense, seemingly confirming her story. The Sheriff instead places her under house arrest.
One of the deputies stays to watch the house and starts recording with his dash-cam. The dash-cam footage shows a large black object flying over the Tyler house. The video then distorts, but the deputy is heard describing people being pulled out of the house and calls for backup. Deputies rush into the house, finding Ronnie and Dr. Tyler, who is desperately sobbing, screaming that Ashley was taken into the sky. Sheriff August, not believing in her abduction theory, accuses her of her daughter's disappearance and removes Ronnie from her custody. Ronnie, though, goes with them willingly, not believing the alien abduction theory either.
Tyler undergoes hypnosis in an attempt to make contact with these beings and reunite with her daughter. Campos and Odusami videotape the session, and once hypnotized, it is revealed that Tyler witnessed the abduction of her daughter and also shows scenes of her own abduction, showing part of the abductors ship and it is hinted that they possibly took some human egg cells from Abbey as well. The camera scrambles, and Abbey begs the alien that abducted Ashley to return her. The creature replies, saying that Ashley will never be returned. It then calls itself the savior, then the father and finally ends with "I am ... God". When the encounter ends, Campos and Odusami rush over to the now unconscious Abbey and then notice something out of camera's view. The camera scrambles again, and a volatile voice yells "Zimabu Eter!" When the camera view clears it shows that all three of them are gone.
The film cuts to an interview with Tyler in which she explains that all three were abducted during that hypnosis session and no one has any memory of what happened.
The film returns to the aftermath of Abbey's hypnosis session. She wakes up in a hospital after breaking her neck in the abduction. There, Sheriff August reveals that Will had actually committed suicide, showing that Abbey's belief that he was murdered was merely a delusion. Later it is shown that Abbey is paralyzed, presumably due to her neck injury.
The film then returns to the present interview, where the Interviewer asks Abbey (Milchard) how they, he and the viewers, can believe her if most of what she thought was only in her mind. Abbey tearfully tells him that she has to believe that Ashley is still alive. The interviewer ends the interview as Abbey breaks down in tears.
In the film's epilogue, it states that Abbey was cleared of all charges against her, leaves Alaska for the East Coast, and deteriorates to the point of being completely bed-bound and requiring constant care. Campos remains a psychologist and Odusami becomes a professor at a Canadian university. Both men, as well as Sheriff August, refuse to be involved with the interview, while Abbey's son Ronnie remains estranged from Abbey and still blames her for Ashley's disappearance. However, as is repeatedly stated in the movie: "In the end, what you believe is yours to decide".Milla Jovovich as Dr. Abigail "Abbey" Tyler
Charlotte Milchard as the 'real' Dr. Abigail Tyler (billed as "Nome resident")
Elias Koteas as Dr. Abel Campos
Will Patton as Sheriff August Thompson
Corey Johnson as Tommy Fisher
Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Awolowa Odusami
Enzo Cilenti as Scott Stracinsky
Eric Loren as Deputy Ryan
Raphael Coleman as Ronnie Tyler
Mia Mckenna-Bruce as Ashley Tyler
Yulian Vergov as Will Tyler
Olatunde Osunsanmi as Interviewer/Himself
Daphne Alexander as Theresa
This is the first major film by writer and director Olatunde Osunsanmi, who is a protégé of independent film director Joe Carnahan. The movie is set up as a re-enactment of the original documentary footage. It also uses "never-before-seen archival footage that is integrated into the film."
The Fourth Kind was shot in Bulgaria and Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. The lush, mountainous setting of Nome in the film bears little resemblance to the actual Nome, Alaska, which sits amidst the fringes of the arctic tree line, where trees can only grow about 8 ft tall due to the permafrost on the shore of the Bering Sea.
To promote the film, Universal Pictures created a website with fake news stories supposedly taken from real Alaska newspapers, including the Nome Nugget and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The newspapers sued Universal, eventually reaching a settlement where Universal would remove the fake stories and pay $20,000 to the Alaska Press Club and a $2,500 contribution to a scholarship fund for the Calista Corporation.
The Fourth Kind was panned by critics, many of whom were offended that the film attempted to use the real life tragedies of missing and deceased Nome citizens in order to make money using a fictitious story about alien abduction. The film currently has a 19% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with the site's consensus being "While it boasts a handful of shocks, The Fourth Kind is hokey and clumsy and makes its close encounters seem eerily mundane." American critic Roger Ebert gave it one and a half stars out of four, comparing it unfavorably to Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, while praising Milla Jovovich's acting.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called the film "rote and listless."