Area 51 (2015) Six Years Too Late

Freon suited and booted in Area 51 Directed and co-written by Oren Peli (Christopher Denham was the other writer on the film) and starring a cast of unknowns, Area 51 began production in 2009 and took until 2015 to be released in a limited run that netted Peli and the studios an abysmal $7K.  

For what ever reason this “found footage” film from Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli lived in purgatory until this year. Sadly, the film could have worked much better with a release date nearer the time of PA. By this point and time “found footage” films have worn out their welcome.

Ignoring the blatant product placement at the start of the film, where the camera moves in for a close up of the Sony personal cams to be worn by the group’s members. (And ignoring that fact that these particular models have most likely been replaced by smaller better versions six years later.) The story of a group of UFO enthusiasts who outsmart Area 51 security to find some amazing, and deadly, secrets underground entertains, but just barely.

Perhaps the biggest let down of the film is the decision to keep any real action from making an appearance till the back end of the feature. Using two-thirds of the film as buildup just does not work and the action, when it does make an appearance is not enough to make this a great experience.

The storyline is interesting enough and the scenes where the group talk to UFO experts and then break into an Area 51 employee’s house are good. The breaking and entering set piece keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, but sadly, there are not enough of these tense moments.

When the small group finally get to their objective, there are some interesting things waiting for them. Unfortunately, even the decision to not show the alien who chases the young people through the labyrinth does not really up the fear ante.

The news is not all bad. Peli manages to make this film feel like a documentary. The interviews at the beginning, the real-life “experts” and the “interviews” the young men do with the “locals” at the Little A’Le’Inn all go toward making this feel like a fly-on-the-wall feature. This works well, but is not enough to compensate for the worn out sub-genre of found footage horror.

With Peli’s brain-child, and mega-hit, Paranormal Activity spawning a slew of sequels that will, apparently, be re-created and added to till the end of time, the scares have been overdone in those films. Even the director’s “homage” to the first film via Jelena Nik (as Jelena) standing stock still in an trance is more annoying than amusing or clever.

The actors all do well in their appointed roles; Reid Warner, Darren Bragg, and Ben Rovner all convince us as the young men who get caught up in their obsession. Timing, as they say, is everything however and as mentioned previously had this film been released back in 2009 it might have found an audience.

The scares and the manner of delivery feels six years old. Outdated, outmoded, perhaps this one was doomed to VoD and the DVD bargain basement bin from the start. Area 51 suffers from its delayed release and is now nothing more than a curiosity and a pale reflection of other films that did it better (think V/H/S).

Area 51 is a 2.5 out of 5 stars and is on US Netflix at the moment. Worth a look but most assuredly not worth two. Horror fans may get a little more out of the viewing but this could well signal the death of found footage horror films…

Please let it be so.

It Follows (2014): The Ultimate STD That Will Creep You Out

Greg and Jay in It Follows
As a cautionary tale this 2014 horror film, It Follows, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, could be called the ultimate std movie and it definitely creeps you out after watching. While this film could be seen as the apex of sexual contraception, although the director stated in an interview that even protected/safe sex would not stop the “disease” from spreading.

Starring Maika Monroe as Jay Height, the film follows her journey of terror after having sex with Hugh/Jeff (Jake Weary). Things immediately take a downturn when Jay is drugged and knocked unconscious after she and Hugh have sex in the back of his car. She wakes to find herself tied to a chair in an abandoned building.

Hugh tells her that something will be coming for her. It walks, it may look like a loved one or someone she knows, and that if it gets to her she will die and then he, Hugh, will be next. The only way, the boy tells her, to be rid of the threat is to have sex with someone else and tell them of this curse.

As events spiral out of control, Jay, her family and friends all try to defeat this curse with varying degrees of success. At the end the film it appears that whatever the group did has not worked, or has it?

This is Mitchell’s third time in the director’s chair and his second feature length film. This newcomer has hit the perfect combination of suspense and story to scare the pants off the audience. While the overall feeling is one of creepy versus terror, there are moments where fear rules the viewer. As the “walkers” move ever closer, the soundtrack uses a mix of white noise and music to crank up the nerves.

The tenseness caused by this mix is almost excruciating. The fact that these specters are slow makes them feel a little like George A. Romero zombies out for a stroll. These zombies are not out to munch on anyone, though, they want to kill the victim.

Horribly.

Jay goes through a series of indignities, the first being knocked out and tied up after sex with Hugh. Later she swims out to a boat with three men on it. While the camera does not linger on any of the events on that vessel, it is apparent that a desperate Jay has slept with them all trying to pass on the curse. She flees her house in her underwear and pedals a bike down the road to get away from one walker. Later she crashes a borrowed car attempted to run away from the walking threat.

It has been pointed out that Mitchell’s film has no specific time period, as well as having items in the film that either do not exist or are anachronisms. Neither the time period nor the props have any bearing on the story however. The tale of a sexual predator, of a different sort, tracking down sexual partners and then killing them before moving on to the next in line is terrifying without any help from external factors.

Another facet of the threat to Jay, and later to Paul and Greg, is that no one else can see the thing stalking the victim. Although there is a great scene with a beach towel and a gun that adds another dimension to the film and its face-changing boogeyman.

It Follows may feature a big bad that is generated by having sex, but the real fear comes from its oddness. Even the “normal” appearing walking threats are off-kilter and different enough that one notices them the second they show up in the distance.

The cleverness behind having these walkers appear so far away and then moving up closer to the victim, oh so slowly, is that it gives everyone plenty of time to panic. When Hugh, who turns to later be a teenager named Jeff, tells Jay about the curse and what not to do, he mentions never going into a building with only one exit. “They may be slow but they are not stupid,” he says.

That said, the “things” take on appearances of friends, relatives, and/or complete strangers who are either supremely messed up or so strange looking that no one would allow them to get too close. In one bizarre instance, the walker takes on the form of its victim.

Yikes.

Watching It Follows will not make anyone lose popcorn or contact with their seat. There are no “jump scares” but…

This film will give you the creeps by the end whether you are a promiscuous teenager or not. David Robert Mitchell has proven that in the area of horror he is an expert who bears watching. If this man sticks with horror he could well become a legend. 5 out of 5 stars for an original storyline that could put you off sex for life.

Pretty Little Liars: Don’t Look Now (Review and Recap)

This week’s episode, Don’t Look Now, in Pretty Little Liars we learn about who Charles DiLaurentis was and what happened to him. According to Jason’s and Alison’s father, he was sent to Radley Institution, where Spenser also spent time. Their father assures both kids that the troubled sibling was too dangerous to stay at home and Jason is still upset that he was made to believe that Charles never existed.

The girls are all still reeling from their torturous incarceration with some having flashbacks, although Spenser is having a harder time than the rest since her mom cancelled her anti-anxiety medication and as a result she cannot sleep. Mr. Dilaurentis explains that the family moved to be close to Charles. Ali relates what she learned to the rest of the girls including the fact that the mystery brother is dead, he committed suicide.

Hannah is convinced that DiLaurentis is still lying and Spenser mentions the home movie the girls found in the doll house, they agree to find proof that Charles is dead. Caleb is sticking close to Hannah and Emily is getting pressure from her mother to speak to Dr. Sullivan. Sara is included and does not react well to the news.

All of the doll house survivors are dealing with the incident better than their families. Aria’s father has become paranoid and wants to take her everywhere, Emily’s mother wants her to have therapy and Caleb, with Hannah’s mother’s blessing is smothering the girl with over protection. He even puts a tracker in her car which, understandably, upsets Hannah.

Spenser meets Sabrina, a new baker at the coffee shop and she learns that the new girl takes drugs for her migraines. As the flashbacks increase, Spenser is getting desperate for some relief and her need to sleep is overwhelming. At one point she goes through Aria’s rubbish bin looking for the pills that she threw away. Finally, Spenser goes to Sabrina for drugs. The baker will not sell her anything but does “put together” a box of essentials.

Sara runs from Emily’s home and returns to her mother, only to learn that things have not changed and that she cannot stay there. Spenser call Radley to see what happen to the patient records now that the facility has closed. Finding that the records either went with transferred patients or were sent to be shredded, the girls head off to find proof of Charles’ death.

At the River Hill Data Center the backdoor to the warehouse is left open and Hanna, Spenser, Aria and Emily search until they find a file on Charles. There is no record of his death or any transfer but they learn what medication he was on and that his great-Aunt Carol was one of two regular visitors. The girls grab the file and as they leave the warehouse Caleb is waiting for them outside. This is when Hannah learns about the tracker that he put on her car.

Jason remembers that after Aunt Carol died, he went to stay at her old home; he was hiding out at the time. When he arrived, his mother was already there and would not let him in the house. He could hear someone else in the building and his mother said that it was the wind and that no one else was there.

Aria gets locked in the developing room at the school and just before discovering that she cannot get out, finds a note that referenced a doll house incident, “You are MY doll b*tch – A” and she has a flashback to Charles cutting her hair and threatening to take all of it if she did not dye it. Afterward she opens up to her father about the doll house.

Alison’s dad relates a Rain Man type incident when she was a baby where Charles almost scalded her in the bath. By the end of the episode, it looks like Hannah is not the only one being tracked and it certainly seems that the kidnapper is still free.

This week’s title, Don’t Look Now is an apparent allusion to the iconic 1973 horror film with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. In the film, the specter of their drowned daughter fills every frame, even when the sight of a red raincoat clad child is not seen by Sutherland’s character and the camera. In the movie, the “child” turns out not to be the ghost of the dead daughter and it seems that in Pretty Little Liars, it is not Charles who kidnapped the girls.

While this is a bit of a stretch, the fact that the “invisible” sibling of Jason and Ali has been dead, the girls discover his grave and headstone, for quite some time, he is obviously the specter in this show. But whoever “doll house” Charles is and his connection to the DiLaurentis brother is still to be answered. With Caleb being asked to back off and his tracking of Hannah, is he the one who is tracking all the doll house survivors? Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays on ABC.

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer: A Sequel Too Far (2006)

Screen shot with DeVitto, Nevin, and Paetkau
While it is always nice to see Brooke Nevin in anything, the fact she is in I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, does not elevate this straight to video 2006 sequel of the original fisherman with a hook horror films. Not even the presence of Torrey DeVitto has elevated the film’s status (if you do not know who DeVitto is check out Pretty Little Liars. Still, the film was entertaining-ish and apart from the flashing moments that the director Sylvain White (The Losers, Stomp the Yard) deemed necessary the movie is not too jarring.

The plot of I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is not too bad. The urban legend of the fisherman with his big hook (Sorry, I simply could not resist.) has morphed into something less personal. Apparently once Jennifer Love-Hewitt left the mix the fisherman, and his little friend, have moved onto other teens with terrible secrets. Now all that is required for him to show up and do a little slicing and dicing is a group of homicidal teens who inadvertently murder one of their own and then cover it up.

At the beginning of the film, Colby (played by David Paetkau who will always be lottery Winner Evan Lewis who gets impaled by the fire escape ladder in Final Destination 2 to me, sorry David.) and his friends set up a prank at the County Fair where the Fisherman shows up with his hook and chases Colby and company around the fairground. Unfortunately for one of their crowd, P.J. (who gets killed off in the first reel and does not make an appearance again except for one brief “that could have been anyone long-shot”) and afterward his pals all agree to stay “stum” and it is this that brings hook guy back.

As teen horror slasher films go, the movie is not too bad, certainly not worth the paltry 3.5 that its earned on IMDb. Of course the use of that “flashy filming,” a technique that Sylvain proudly explains in the commentary as “turning the camera on and off really quickly,” must rate as the most obtrusive and irritating use of a camera ever on a film. Take that out and the “Summer” sequel would have rated a lot better in my humble opinion.

There are some things in the film that make no real sense. For instance, the pairing up of Brooke Nevin’s character with Ben Easter’s Lance was a “huh?” moment. Apologies to Easter, but the character came across as fairly creepy. Of course, Nevin’s Amber was with Colby earlier so perhaps she just has poor taste in boyfriends.

Considering this DVD was in the “bargain bin” section of movies in the local Family Dollar Store, it was not bad entertainment for $4. If horror fans have decent Internet, it would behoove them to stream this film for a couple of dollars versus buying it. Although it is almost worth it to hear Sylvain White proudly describing his filming technique and how well he thinks it works on his second ever feature length film.

While I may not like his use of the flashy moments, others may like it or not even be bothered by it. In terms of plot, again not too shabby, and the overall “kill factor” I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer does entertain to a degree and therefore earns a 3 out of 5 stars. The extra star is there because of Nevin, DeVitto and Paetkau…

‘Contracted’ Morality Tale Film With a Twist

‘Contracted’ Morality Tale Film With a Twist

Available on U.S. Netflix right now is another film from Arkansas writer/director Eric England; Contracted, is a morality tale film with a twist that viewers will not see coming. Despite leaving enough signposted hints that should tell the eagle-eyed audience member in advance how this story will end, the final frames will surprise and impress the viewer. The film is clever, subtle, and gently eases the audience into the gripping story of a lovelorn woman who loses everything by the time the end credits roll.