Year Released : 2015
Director : Oren Peli
Cast : Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, Ben Rovner and Jelena Nik
Much like zombie films, I found myself reviewing far too many found footage films recently and this will be the last one I review for a whilst as I often find myself saying similar things, and unfortunately it’s going to be the case with Area 51.
Now, I was actually quite intrigued by the premise of someone trying to break into Area 51. I personally do believe in life elsewhere in the universe as I find it exceptionally unlikely that Earth is the only planet that has life, even if it’s only bacteria elsewhere. It’s through this belief that I am quite a big fan of the science fiction genre, but the reason I bring this up is because Area 51 is alleged to be heavily involved in working on alien life, such as the Roswell incident, so I found it interesting to see how someone would portray this in film.
However, despite being intrigued and somewhat excited by the film, it was disappointingly predictable and you know what’s going to happen long before it actually happens. This ruins it for me.
For a change I am writing this introduction after I have actually watched the film, 24 hours afterwards to be precise (and I’m writing this on Monday evening), as I wanted to spend some time thinking it over and trying to think of any positives I could give to the film. As you can probably tell already, the positives are few and far between and I feel that the average rating of 4.1/10 on IMDB at the time of writing is too high. Infact, I’d struggle to give it anything more than a 3.
After disappearing at a party, Reid (Warner – yes, they did all use their real names for their character names) is found by his friend Darrin (Bragg) and Ben (Rovner), but he has completely changed. He has become obsessed by UFOs and aliens and comes up with a plan to break into Area 51 to find proof that aliens exist. He talks Darrin and Ben into taking a trip to Nevada with him and there they meet up with Jelena (yep, you’ve guessed it, Nik), someone who has inside knowledge.
The group proceeds to then follow a suspected employee of Area 51 to his home, eventually breaking in, stealing his ID and a bottle of cologne, gaining his finger print in the process. Ben suddenly grows exceptionally nervous as he wasn’t expecting Reid to take things as far as he was, as well as breaking the law in numerous ways. Despite this, Reid and Darrin convince him to drive them to the border of where Area 51 supposedly is.
When they arrive, Reid, Darrin and Jelena start their journey to break into the complex, avoiding helicopters, land mines and random patrols on their way in. They do eventually make it into the complex and find their proof of alien life, but whereas getting in was difficult enough, getting out would be nigh on impossible, especially after they accidentally release something.
So, a good addition to the found footage genre or another entry that shows the genre should die.
As I mentioned in other reviews, when they’re done right, found footage style films can be excellent. [REC], Cloverfield, VHS and As Above, So Below, are examples of the genre being done right, but Area 51 falls someway short of being included in the good category.
It suffers with the same old problems of the genre, in other words, it’s predictable and defies the logic of something running for their life but still filming and turning around, focusing the camera on what’s chasing them and then running again. This wouldn’t happen in real life. If I was getting chased by something that is probably going to kill me if it catches me, I am not going to stop and film what’s chasing me. It just doesn’t happen.
It’s certainly not the only problem with this film and there are two main ones that I think take a larger spotlight.
The first main problem with Area 51 is that right at the beginning of the film, it effectively tells you what is going to happen. If you’ve watched the excellent “District 9” then you will remember that at the beginning of the film a documentary takes place where characters recall what Wikus was like and then how they all reacted to what happened to him, so at point you knew what was going to happen but you were never entirely sure. Area 51 tries to do a very similar thing in which it has an interview set up at first with various people and they all tell you that the three characters just disappeared.
This sets out as the film effectively spoiling itself in the first few minutes as you knew that the characters had no chance, and even when one of them escapes late on, you know that something is going to happen as the film has already told you that that character never returned and completely disappeared. The last thing I want in a film is for it to tell me what happens in the end.
When it’s done with subtlety it’s not too bad if the film spoils itself. For example, I watched Unfriended at the cinema recently and I quite liked it, and what you don’t realise until you read about the film afterwards is that within the first five seconds of being on the screen, each character that eventually dies actually shows you how they end up dying, and that’s pretty cool and how it should be done. It shouldn’t be made blatantly obvious and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realised. That was subtle, Area 51’s was not as you knew all of the way through the film that the characters weren’t getting out.
The second issue that I have with the film is that it is actually built quite well. It’s a slow build that is paced quite well….but then it keeps building…..and building…..and building….and when they do finally get into the facility, the majority of the film is already gone. They go from a reasonable build to not leaving themselves a lot of time to actually get what happens in the facility to an exciting level.
This leads to a less than exciting ending which is done at such a rushed pace that you are left asking what is actually going on, and no film should do that.
Another trend that I’ve noticed with similar films is that to add a sense of realism to the film, the writers are giving the characters the same first name as the actor or actress playing them. There is another film coming out later in the year called The Gallows (which has one of the most basic trailers I’ve ever seen in my life) and all of the characters share their first name with the actor or actress.
Whilst I am sure that this is done with a genuine attempt to connect to the characters, I find it a bit pathetic that you’re having to do that to try and get a connection. Connections with characters shouldn’t be with things like this, they should be natural and organic. Trying to shove something down my throat is not the way to get me connected to the characters and in this sense it fails miserably. It certainly doesn’t help when none of the characters, other than Ben (and even then that’s at a push) develop or change throughout the film. They all pretty much finish how they started out and don’t seem to learn anything.
The ONLY positive that I can give the film is that it at least has the decency to try and do something different from most other found footage style films. By that I mean that it’s a found footage film that isn’t in the horror genre. There are very few horror elements to it and that makes a refreshing change from the usual genre that you find this style film in. But other than that, I can’t think of anything noteworthily (if that’s even a word) good about the film.
For me it is one that focuses too much on style and not substance, but even the style isn’t particularly well done, and what worries me even more is that I highly doubt that Area 51 is left so relatively unprotected at night. The characters get to the door so incredibly easily that it makes you question the realism of a film. I’ve never been to Area 51 and I have no intention of going, not that I’d be allowed anything, but I can’t imagine for a second that the only security measures that they have are a few people sat in jeeps and a helicopter. There’s no fencing of any variety, no guard towers, nothing. I appreciate that they’d want to keep a certain level of security, but to suggest that they have very little security is quite frankly laughable.
Even when they get into the facility, there is minimal security around. There are only a few employees here and there, there is seemingly no camera system and the characters are able to wander freely around the complex, rarely coming up against anything that would stop them progression. Even when they eventually find what they’re looking for, there’s nothing to stop them getting in that room, not even enhanced security procedures, and again, I highly doubt that Area 51 would be so insecure.
Again, I am making that assumption and I could be completely wrong. For all I know there could be precisely fuck all security at Area 51, but the only way to find out would be to risk spending the rest of my life in a prison cell somewhere. As much fun as I’m sure that would be, I think I’ll pass.
Whilst it tries a slightly different approach in the found footage genre by making something that isn’t a horror film, it ultimately fails to make you enjoy the film. It has a decent enough build, but the build goes on for far, far too long and by the end it tries to fit too much into a short about of time, and everything after they enter the building feels force, rather than natural.
There are very few positives about Area 51 and it is a poor attempt at film-making. Then again, this is the same director that started the horrible Paranormal Activity franchise, so I’m not sure what I was expecting.