May 042016


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

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Feb 102016


Bad Movie Tuesday – Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

By Bill Nelson

Well, last week got off to a rousing start with Dumb & Dumber To. After looking at one of Hollywood’s bigger bad movies, though, it seemed like it was time to take a turn down a more familiar route. Horror movies are the life blood of bad cinema. I’ve said it more times than I count and it just never stops being true. Why? Well, because they’re usually reasonably cheap to make and almost always return at least a modest profit. In other words, ever Tom, Dick, and Igor can go out and make a terrible zombie/alien/monster movie and, with little to no marketing, make a few bucks.

This week we’ll be taking a look at one of the movies I was really hoping would be good in 2015, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. By now, if you don’t know the basic premise of the series you’re probably new to the planet, but just in case here’s a brief primer. Spooky stuff happens while people are filming. People get freaked out and get super serious about trying to capture the spooky stuff on film more. The spooky stuff escalates and people die. To be less oblique, the Paranormal Activity movies are a found footage series of horror films. The initial film, written and directed by Oren Peli and starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, was a surprise hit in 2009. Primarily the series follows an unseen demon (finally named Toby in Paranormal Activity 3) who torments various families in their homes. Of the six films produced in the series, only the first and third are really any good. The second one has a good twist ending that ties it nicely back in with the first but doesn’t do much to earn it. The Marked Ones stands as an interesting but ultimately dull side story to the main film series and the fourth one is just terrible. Where does The Ghost Dimension fall in this, though?

Ultimately, I would argue that this flick is actually a little better than the last main entry in the series, Paranormal Activity 4, but worse than pretty much everything else in the series. The story is more interesting, if only just barely, and the scares are a little more effective. It’s basic: a family finds an old box of videos in their attic showing the indoctrination of young Katie and her sister Kristi (the sisters at the heart of Paranormal Activity 1, 2, and 3) into the coven of witches introduced in the prior films. As the family watches the videos they make the eerie realization that, despite being filmed over twenty years earlier, the girls are somehow aware of their presence, reacting to things in the video that happen as they are being watched. At the same time, a presence begins stalking the house, attaching itself to the family’s young daughter, Leila. The presence, the invisible demon known as Toby, can only be seen through an old, highly customized camcorder found in the box with the videos. As the family realizes that their daughter is changing and something in the house has it in for them they begin filming everything that happens at night in order to find and put a stop to Toby for good.

There are some clever moments in the The Ghost Dimension. The ‘spectral’ camera is definitely put to better, scarier use than the infrared dots of the X­Box Kinect system in Paranormal Activity 4. And, while the movie never really shoots for anything more than jump scares, I will give them credit for being better handled than most modern horror flicks. The problem with the movie is that for all that it wants to be different and unique from the rest of the series while wallowing in the same tropes set up in those prior entries, it never really gets any further than a bad Exorcist wannabe.

I really, really wanted to like this movie. I remember discovering the first Paranormal Activity back in 2010 when it used to be on Netflix. It was late at night and pitch black except for my TV and I was thoroughly hooked by the simple premise and genuinely creepy atmosphere of the film. As the series aged, though, elements started popping up that could have made for an interesting mythology but were just never fleshed out enough to make sense. The Ghost Dimension was supposed to answer all the questions in the series and wrap it up with a bow, but I walked away still not quite sure exactly what the point was other than it had something to do with time travel. If you enjoyed the earlier films in the series, you’ll probably have some fun with this one but otherwise, you’re better off just watching the first 3 again.

Stank Ranking – 8.5

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