Area 51


With AREA 51, Oren Peli Proves Not Everything He Touches is Gold

Main Cast: Reid Warner and Jelena Nik

Director: Oren Peli

Wow. Just wow. And not a good wow, either.

Sometimes you see a trailer and it gives away the entire film. Sometimes you see a trailer and it shows a lot, but that lot only makes you more excited to see the full movie. Sometimes you see the full movie and realize the trailer was the best part.

While I enjoyed the first Paranormal Activity, I didn’t think it was scary at all, but I did gain an immense respect for Oren Peli. Here was a guy who understood the genre and was making it work with few resources. Good for him. And it turned into a multi-million dollar enterprise. Maybe he could do it again.

Nope. He couldn’t. At least not with his 2015 effort Area 51.

This movie was completed in 2013 and only finally given a very limited release in 2015 before going almost straight to DVD, and having now seen the movie twice (I was so unimpressed the first time, I wondered if maybe I’d just missed something; I hadn’t really been paying close attention the first time I watched it, so it was possible), I’m wondering why they even bothered releasing it at all.

The story focuses on Reid (Reid Warner, “The Unit”) who, at a party one night, disappears and is later found in the middle of the road by his friends Ben (Ben Rovner, The New American Dream) and Darrin (Darrin Bragg, “After the Party“). Fast forward three months later and Reid and Darrin are prepping for the adventure of a lifetime: they’re going to sneak into Area 51 and explore. Reid experienced some missing time during that party and ever since has felt he’s being drawn to the secret government base.

Ben will act as their driver, and on the way there, they stop in Las Vegas to meet up with Jelena, the daughter of a former Area 51 employee who was later fired before being killed. Jelena (Jelena Nik, “Modern Family”) has all of her dad’s old papers concerning the base, and she’s going to share them with Reid to help him gain access and find whatever he’s looking for.

Using a collection of elaborate tricks, including suits bathed in Freon, ammonia tablets, and signal jammers, Reid and Darrin, with Jelena in tow, finally make it onto the base and begin their exploration.

And this is where the movie falls completely apart, right when we get to the good stuff.

The first 45 minutes of this 90-minute movie details the lengths Reid and company are going to to gain entrance to the base. The last 45 minutes we we’re just watching them, wander around, sneaking from corridor to corridor, and the few times they actually do find a room with anything interesting in it, they stick around for about a minute, then leave to see what else they can find.

It doesn’t take very long at all for the alarms to start going on and the military who work at the base to start chasing them and Reid, Darrin and Jelena are on the run for their lives.

Unfortunately, the actual chase, as seen in the movie, is a whole lot less impressive than that last sentence made it seem.

They become separated and Darrin is suddenly and inexplicably being chased by a hulking alien form that’s somehow loose inside the base, while Reid and Jelena descend further underground into what looks like a series of tunnels and caves carved out of the earth, finally winding up in a strange white room where the laws of physics and gravity no longer seem to apply. Again, that actually sounds more interesting than it is in the movie.

I don’t know if Peli, who also wrote the movie, honestly thought he was making something scary or suspenseful in the vein of his previous smash hit, or if he knew, in the end, that what he had on his hands was a big fat dud and that’s why it took two years to see the light of day. Whatever was going through his head, though, the end result is AREA 51 is 90 minutes of bullshit to get to half a second of what could have been a really cool shot if handled properly and given the right attention. Everything else leading up to it, though, was crap.

And after seeing the trailer for this online, I had such incredibly high hopes that, the second I saw the DVD on a store shelf, I didn’t even hesitate to grab it, didn’t even look at the price, just saw it was Area 51 and tossed it in my cart. That’s what impulse purchases will get you. Not that checking reviews or anything beforehand would have mattered; I know not to trust every review I read–except my own (cough cough)–and would have bought it anyway, but I could have at least stopped for a second to wonder why I didn’t remember an Oren Peli found footage movie showing up in theaters when, last I heard, his name was found footage gold in Hollywood. Now I know.

The “stars” of the movie were all fine. They had the right energy and enthusiasm to pull of the scenario they were given, so I can’t place any of the blame for this movie being terrible on them. They tried. But Peli just wasn’t giving them anything to work with here. Nothing that, in the end, could be cobbled together to make a watchable movie, anyway. The pacing is all wrong. Half the movie just on the prep? Too long. Fifteen minutes on some empty exploration that leads nowhere? Boring. And then a final thirty minutes of two found footage pov chase scenes that are barely visible on camera? Come on, man!

Obviously I’m not going to write Oren Peli off completely based on the failure of this movie, but I certainly will stop and think before I automatically toss his next DVD into my shopping cart, that’s for sure. As for my Area 51 DVD, this thing will go on my shelf and never again see the light of day. Blech!

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