I’ve been doing something new lately. Whenever possible I try to go into watching a new horror flick blind. I don’t look it up on IMDb.com, I don’t don’t look for the trailer on YouTube, and I don’t read any of the details on the spec sheets I get when I receive screeners. This is how I went into AREA 407; I didn’t have a friggin’ clue as to what was going on in this one as I popped it into my DVD player. Did my ‘guarded approach’ work? Did this make AREA 407 more enjoyable?
After hitting ‘play,’ the screen has the following disclaimer:
“The following has been compiled from found footage recovered from crash incident: Optima Air, Flight 37A, December 31, 2010 – January 1, 2011. Viewing and distribution without official written permission and consent is forbidden and punishable by law. This case is currently under investigation and review.”
Uuhhh; another ‘found footage’ flick trying to cash in on the success of such films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I kept an open mind, of course, and was hoping for at least a well-executed found footage flick that offers something a little new or at least different. We’ll get to this in a minute.
The film begins as the cast boards a plane headed to the West coast. Young Trish (Abigail Schrader) and her older sister Jessie (Samantha Lester) are on their way home to California. Trish, being a young teenager, is using Jessie’s camera to film everything, and she also likes to talk. A lot. So far the characters felt real. A little too real. Trish is a little too friendly and outgoing and does start getting on your nerves before too long. On the plane the sisters meet Jimmy (James Lyon), a profession photojournalist also on his way home to California. The dialogue feels really natural among the sisters and Jimmy and at times seemed very unscripted. Well it turns out that the film was ad-libbed by the entire cast. I’m assuming that directors Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin gave general character descriptions in the script and it was up to the actors to fill in the rest. As far as this goes, the cast does a really nice job … most of the time.
During the flight the plane hits some really bad turbulence and ends up crash landing in a field. What the surviving passengers don’t realize is that they landed on restricted government land where some thing is being tested. As if surviving a plane crash wasn’t enough, now they need to band together in order to survive whatever it is that’s attacking and killing them one by one. Just like in all found footage flicks, the question always arises as to why, in the face of mortal danger, does some schmuck leave the camera rolling? AREA 407 provides two answers to this problem. Talking on the plane with Jimmy, Jessie tells him she too wants to become a professional photographer. Jimmy’s advice: Always keep the camera rolling. No matter what, keep the camera on!! That’s all great, but if something was attacking and killing the people around me, I’d say “fuck that” and think about surviving. The other, better explanation was that it was pitch black in the field they crashed in, and Jimmy had some strong-ass camera lights in his carry-on. They kept the cameras on for the sake of light. That I can buy.
The positives here are the acting and location/setting. The actors, for the most part, did a really nice job in their roles. If this film was truly ad-libbed then I’m impressed how the actors seamlessly interacted with each other. There were moments that truly felt authentic and times where it felt we were really watching found footage of the aftermath of a crash. But there were other times when some actors weren’t convincing. The actor playing Charlie (Brendan Patrick Connor), for example, was a good actor but the arc he took his character on was a little ridiculous. On the plane he was a belligerent douchebag to the stewardesses, after the crash he was douchy to the other survivors, then he was a scared, crying wuss, then he tells us he had a heart attack a year ago and needed his heart pills (nothing more came of this), and then he was a helpful, friendly guy trying to help save everyone. His character was all over the place. But again; for the most part the acting and ad-libbing was well done and pretty effective.
Directors Fabrigar and Wallin also did nice jobs with creating some genuinely tense moments. They really utilized the darkness and isolation of the setting to their advantage. The darkness itself almost became another character as the creature’s attacks became more and more frequent and brutal. You never knew where the creature would strike from and the darkness became like another character, helping to hide the beast.
The main problem with this film, and it’s a problem that’s pretty unforgivable, is that the creature is fucking lame. I mean really fucking lame. I’m not talking about the way it physically looks; I’m referring to what the creature ends up being. The original title of this film was TAPE 407. The title change would suggest them playing to the word “area,” as in “Area 51.” So yeah; I thought it was gonna be revealed that the plane crash somehow released this creature who has an extraterrestrial origin and was being held in an Area 51-type government facility. Nope. I’m not gonna tell you exactly what the creature turned out to be, but I was waiting for Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum to walk out from behind a bush at any second. Blech.
AREA 407, for the majority of its playtime, was a well-executed film with good acting, nice tension-building scenes, and some good “shock moments.” But the filmmakers here didn’t follow the cardinal rule of making a creature feature: A creature feature must have a great-looking and interesting creature. AREA 407 really shits the bed in this aspect. The creature here was unoriginal, uninspired, and essentially ruined the entire film after it was revealed. It’s a shame too, because Fabrigar and Wallin made a pretty fun found footage flick. Just work on that creature, guys!!
Directors: Dale Fabrigar & Everette Wallin (also writers with Robert Shepyer)
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars (pre-creature reveal); 1.5 out of 5 stars (post-creature reveal)
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer