By: Bill Nelson
Welcome back for another round of bad movie sweetness. For those that actually keep up with the article, I apologize for our two week long hiatus. This was beyond control but I assure you everything is finally coming back together for the site to be able to provide the consistently high level of entertainment you’ve come to expect from us. Or, at the very least it won’t get any worse.
Anyway, this week we’re going to take a look at a filmmaker more than a movie. Our flick this week is 2015’s Area 51, written and directed by one Oren Peli. In 2009 Oren Peli was the golden boy of the indie horror scene with his crowd pleasing film Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity reignited a fascination with found footage films that had sort of died out with The Blair Witch back in 1999. Even more so, it proved to be a unique way to tell a haunted house story that put us even more in the place of the characters experiencing the scares by putting us behind the filter of a camcorder. While hardly revolutionary, Paranormal Activity proved to be interesting which is more than most independent horror flicks can claim these days. Flash forward 6 years, though, and we see that to date Oren Peli has directed exactly 2 films, the original PA and this week’s movie, Area 51. Hardly the career of a young, up and coming genre director. True, Peli has made a name for himself producing more than directing, but it’s a strange path for the director of one of the biggest horror films in the last 10 years to take. After watching Area 51, I think I’m starting to understand why this is the case. Peli is one of those directors who is gifted with big ideas but not quite talented to pull them off. The end result of Area 51 is this bitter taste of mediocrity with twinges of what could have been laced through.
Here’s the basic premise. Area 51 follows three primary characters: Reid, Darrin, and Ben. The beginning of the movie is actually a series of talking head interviews telling the audience instead of showing them how Reid went through a drastic personality change over the previous three months, going from an outgoing, athletic young man to an obsessed conspiracy theorist, and how these changes lead to the disappearance of the three young men. Then we are shown video footage of the young men at a party, drinking and partying when suddenly Reid disappears from the party during a short black out. He isn’t seen again until the other two are driving home and find him standing in the middle of the road staring off into space.
The movie then jumps forward three months to the weekend they disappeared. We’re shown that Reid has developed an obsession with alien visitation and abduction and has spent the last three months planning to sneak onto the military base known as Area 51 to prove that aliens have visited the planet. The rest of the movie is basically a series of misadventures as the trio tests and plays with their equipment, meets a comely young woman who claims her father was fired from Area 51 for asking too many questions and has documents showing where the secrets are hidden on the base, and finally the break in to the base itself.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it spends too much time spinning its wheels trying to establish a story but since the story is so thin to begin with it basically feels like you’re just watching a bunch of whiny, petulant kids film themselves for an hour. The most interesting part of the whole film, the exploration of Area 51, is also the least developed. We are shown revelations at breakneck speed but there is not time given to flesh them out or tie them back to earlier moments in the story, leaving a feeling like there is no consistent logic within the film.
I have to give props to two scenes in the flick, the white blood scene, where the characters find a lab like room containing several strange objects such as a black chunk of rock that seems to spin and levitate of its own accord and a bowl of white, blood-like liquid in a bowl under a glass case. The white blood seems to react to the presence of the characters until it finally seems to try to attack them, which causes the rock to suddenly spin out of control and break from it’s container. The second is the saucer like ship they find shortly there after. The ship seems to react to Reid’s touch, opening up and allowing him inside. Once inside, Reid finds strange pod like containers that appear to have once housed living things and discovers that he can see out into the room where his friends are waiting but once he gets out finds that they couldn’t see him. Both of these scenes were likely not difficult to actually accomplish, but they elevate the effects of the movie, which to that point have been minimal at best, and create a certain wow factor. Since there’s no real connection to exactly why these things are important except ‘woo, alien!’ means that they don’t make the film better, though.
If you’re going to make a movie like this you need to spend more time developing the Reid character. After all, he’s the driving force for why the three characters are trying to break into Area 51 in the first place. In other words, we need more than barely five minutes of him partying to establish his original personality and more than talking heads to convince us he’s different. The Reid shown throughout the film doesn’t really seem all that different from the Reid at the beginning. He’s perhaps a little more driven and focused than Party Reid, but, considering how little we actually knew him at the flick’s start, this doesn’t really seem like that drastic a change.
Ultimately, Area 51 has some serious promise. The story needs some tightening to flesh out the remaining characters, particularly Reid, and to give us a reason to care that they’re storming Area 51 than just because. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tie some of the scares once they get to Area 51 back to things that we as audience members see from watching the video footage that the characters, who are supposedly doing the actual filming, aren’t able to see. Planting the seed for a scare means you get a bigger pay off down the road and don’t have to rely solely on jump scares to rattle your audience. So, to finally put a long story to bed, Area 51 is intriguing at times but comes across as Paranormal Activity’s younger, less interesting stepbrother.
Stank Ranking - – 8/10