Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, and some Sexuality/Nudity
Directed by: Oren Peli
Written by: Oren Peli
Starring: Jelena Nik, Ben Rovner, Jamel King & Nikka Far
Documentary filmmakers sure are stupid. At least, that’s what a million found footage horror flicks would have you believe. Handheld horror has been through plenty of highs and lows, but Oren Peli delivered something truly special in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Instead of reveling in on-screen ghostly antics, Peli approached his tiny scarefest as a less-is-more effort. The quiet sense of unease being built throughout the whole film left a lingering impact on many viewers. I distinctly remember being scared out of my mind on a fateful night in October 2009 when I saw it. Peli was hailed as a potential new golden boy in the horror genre and then…nothing really happened aside from him producing a handful of projects. If those years shown anything, it’s that perhaps Peli is a one-trick pony. With CHERNOBYL DIARIES (which he wrote) and his failed TV series THE RIVER being big disappointments, AREA 51 (a once potentially awesome sounding project) faded into obscurity. Peli’s sophomore effort has finally released with minimal promotion and no hype. There’s a reason for that. AREA 51 sucks.
Three friends have decided to take a road trip out to Area 51. I’d give you their names, but (let’s face it) those details bear absolutely no importance to the plot. One friend is driving and the other two have an elaborate plan to break into the top-secret government base and capture footage of what they find on the inside. One of these friends was also possibly abducted by aliens, but that’s surprisingly glanced over after the first 15 minutes. With the help of a young expert, the two amateur filmmakers break into the base and…bad things happen. You pretty much have a good idea of where this one is going before it even starts. The problem is that none of it is scary, the least bit interesting, or even remotely entertaining.
AREA 51 follows bland, generic characters. What kind of annoyed me is that Oren Peli returns to the same well of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY briefly with one of the main characters acting weird/distant while being filmed. While Kati was haunted by a demon, this guy was abducted by aliens and sometimes spaces out (forgive the pun) for vague reasons. These people are just thoroughly annoying and unlikable, but they are far from the biggest problem in this film. Oren Peli tries to take a dread-soaked less-is-more approach again and doesn’t stick the landing. The movie doesn’t even enter the actual Area 51 until over 50 minutes into the running time (which is more than halfway into the film). This reminded me of the recent AS ABOVE, SO BELOW where it took a long while before the gates of Hell were even mentioned. We are shown step-by-step how this trio are going to break into Area 51, but we could have just as easily had it shown to us as it was happening and spent more time inside the government base.
In spite of the first act trying to eat everything else around it, AREA 51 has a couple decent scenes. I really liked the concept of how the inside of a UFO would appear and that bit was set up fairly well in advance. The inside of the base looks creepy, even if I was constantly questioning how there was next to no security in the secret government facility. I couldn’t help but feel like this whole film was a missed opportunity. There’s about 10 seconds of a Gray glimpsed on camera and the rest of the film is pretty much a combination of planning on breaking into the base or running around pointlessly through darkened hallways. Iffy CGI is also present in both the barely seen alien and floating objects. None of it is particularly scary either. I can’t imagine anyone really being frightened at any point in this movie. Throw in a few remarkably dumb character decisions (being too scared to press an elevator button or hiding under a table in plain sight) and you’ve got the dumb horror clichés that we all hate.
AREA 51 is a generically bad found footage movie. It’s made even more of a let-down when you consider how much potential this project had and how solid the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was. This is more boring than scary and more stupid than entertaining. I think that if there’s anything to be learned from CHERNOBYL DIARIES, THE RIVER and now, AREA 51, it’s that Oren Peli producing a film is an okay sign. However, when he’s writing or directing, proceed with caution. You’ve already seen AREA 51 under countless other titles in many other poorly made found footage horror movies. Honestly, you’d be better off watching APOLLO 18 instead.