Area 51 (2015)
★ / ★★★★
The first thing I did after watching “Area 51,” directed by Oren Peli, was to check the picture’s budget. I was horrified that five million dollars was put into the film but it looked like it had a budget of about five thousand dollars. It is very student film—by one who is meant to fail the class because he or she does not understand how to set up elementary elements, like how to create tension or suspense. This is key because the genre is sci-fi horror but the result is, for the most part, boredom.
It starts off on the wrong foot. People talk directly to camera about how three friends—Reid (Reid Warner), Darrin (Darrin Bragg), and Ben (Ben Rovner)—had gone missing ever since they decided to break into Area 51, a government facility that supposedly house extraterrestrial evidence. This is a mistake because it signals to us that it is one of those so-called found-footage pictures where it all goes terribly wrong in the end—meaning there is likely no survivor. Already we get the impression that it is a pessimistic film.
One might be tempted to compare this work to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’ “The Blair Witch Project.” After all, they have more than a few similarities: three protagonists, characters going on a journey in search of proof, and they come to regret their decision to plunge carelessly into the unknown. But to make that comparison is an insult to the 1999 classic. That film has plenty of memorable scenes. It may frustrate many at times but one cannot stop looking at it because there is a quiet menace underneath the desperation of the characters.
Here, just about everything comes across as forced and false. For instance, as the protagonists finally arrive at the facility, one can barely see anything. The break-in occurs at night so it is very dark. In addition, the hand-held camera shakes so relentlessly that it is dizzying and we are unable to appreciate the environment or marvel at the government’s secret area. There is an exchange among the characters that the point of them going on this mission is to show the public what is hidden. I found it ironic that in the end it shows us nothing of substance.
The visual effects during the latter half are ugly and fake: floating meteorites, seemingly conscious liquid, spaceships—even invisible extraterrestrials (how convenient—it must have been so expensive creating invisible aliens on screen). One of the problems with these images is a complete lack of imagination. These are things that we have seen before in better television shows and movies. Peli’s film does not bother to be creative or offer something new. It takes tired images and formulas, chews them up, and regurgitates them. Then the filmmakers, through our eyes and brain, expect us to digest these recycled trash. Don’t you find that insulting?
Halfway through the picture, something in me—one who knows better—wished that I were watching the Season One finale of Chris Carter’s “The X-Files.” That one episode is everything this movie is not: sharply written, imaginative, envelope-pushing in terms of the medium, the performances are memorable, and the revelations stick with you like a sentient goo from outer space.