In 2007, writer-director Oren Peli changed the face of modern horror filmmaking with the film, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. The first film blew audiences away with it’s minimalist production values and decent, genuine scares. I enjoyed the first film and looked forward to see what Peli had up his sleeve next. Well… not much. Peli was a Hollywood Golden Boy. The film had an estimated budget of $15,000 and went on to earn $193,355,800 worldwide. I’m sure every studio in Hollywood was writing him blank checks to make the next big film. Instead, Peli went and became a producer for such films as INSIDIOUS, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, 3, 4, and 5, CHERNOBYL DIARIES, THE LORDS OF SALEM, and THE BAY (to name a few). But what most people don’t know is that in 2009 Peli quietly directed and wrote the film, AREA 51. The film sat on the shelf for six years until it was finally released in May 2015. Why the wait? Was it worth the wait?
No. No it wasn’t.
In direct opposition to his first film’s budget, Peli with a budget of five million dollars (that’s right, $5,000,000) made AREA 51. To give you some background on this train wreck of a film, production originally began in the fall of 2009. But then in 2011 CBS Films hired Chris Denham to do some rewrites on the film and in 2013 Peli filmed some re-shoots. In late 2013, Jason Blum, one of the film’s producers, announced that AREA 51 had finally finished production and Peli had it in post-production. Two years later the film was released exclusively in Alamo Drafthouse theaters for a weekend run and on various VOD platforms. In its limited theatrical run, AREA 51 made a total of $7,556. Ouch.
Enough background. What’s AREA 51 all about? The film opens with three friends getting ready to attend a party. During the party, Reid (Reid Warner) was abducted by aliens and began his months long obsession with trying to find out what happened to him. Reid convinced his two friends Ben (Ben Rovner) and Darrin (Darrin Bragg) to go on a very dangerous trip to infiltrate the mysterious Area 51 in the Nevada desert. Darrin made sure to film everything, and before you realized it, AREA 51 was just another found footage flick. Just wait until you watch these three seemingly jobless twenty-somethings pack up thousands of dollars of electronic equipment they needed to get through the Area 51 security (which we’re told is second to none).
The entire story is lazy and overly convenient. They easily bypassed the exterior security measures and avoided the Area 51 security team (“The Cammo Guys”). If you’re wondering how they’re going to break into the complex itself, wonder no more. Reid found a girl online, Jelena (Jelena Nik) who’s father used to work at Area 51 and had a high security clearance. Well wasn’t that convenient!! I bet you’re wondering how they bypassed the exterior security, right? Simple. Reid scheduled a meeting with real life Area 51 expert, Glenn Campbell (who plays himself). I’m sure Campbell meets whack-jobs from the internet to tell them how to break into a highly classified government bases all the time!!
The whole film (unbelievably) builds up to the friends breaking into Area 51 and (hopefully) finding evidence of (violent) aliens. The film certainly took its sweet-ass time as it built up to the break-in. When we finally get to it, the friends broke into the complex easier than Thomas Crowne could break into a gas station safe. Apparently, one of the most secured governmental facilities in the world is protected by three to four guards at most.
They finally penetrated into the lower levels of the facility and discovered … stuff. Some of the stuff was cool looking, but most of the stuff in the lower levels was in complete darkness. Couldn’t see a damn thing!! There were flashes of alien sleep chambers and it was implied that the aliens are carnivorous creatures with a taste for human flesh, but it’s only vaguely hinted at. Everything is just so damned boring and pointless. You’ll know exactly what’s gonna happen within the first few minutes of the film. It’s an extremely lazy script that lacks any kind of suspense or tension. Even the cast looked bored by the end of the film. AREA 51 felt like Peli took the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY script and substituted “demons” and “ghosts” with “aliens.” AREA 51 is the same film as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.
AREA 51 was a complete mess and was a typical found footage movie complete with annoying characters, improbable scenarios, and a less than satisfying ending. The entire film can be summed up as predictable, dull, and derivative. Now we know why this one sat on the shelf for six years. I’d make some kind of clever comment about how AREA 51 should itself be “abducted,” but I think you all get the point. Avoid this one!!
Director: Oren Peli (& co-writer with Chris Denham)
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer