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 (And ignoring that fact that these particular models have most likely been replaced by smaller better versions six years later.)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.