AUGUST 28, 2012
My buddy Scott Weinberg has been ranting about Area 407 (formerly Tape 407, which makes less sense) for a while now, but we don't see eye to eye on too many of these things (he really liked Grave Encounters, for example, whereas I found it fairly generic), so I was hoping I'd see it differently. But while I think I liked it a little more than him, for simplicity's sake he's right - the flick is too grating and lazy to really set itself apart in a positive way.
The main problem is the wholly obnoxious girl behind the camera. While it's kind of novel to mix adults and children in one of these things, and it's even sort of realistic that she'd be annoying, no one apparently told "writer"/directors Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin that a little goes a long way. As the film begins her and her older sister are boarding a flight to Los Angeles, and she is filming every single person on the plane as she makes her way to her seat, commenting on their clothes or luggage - and not a single one of them tells her to fuck off! Have they never actually been on a plane before (especially one to LA)? She wouldn't get past three rows without someone telling her to put it away before they break it. No, on this magical plane everyone is charmed by this little girl shoving a camera in their face as they're about to take a confusingly late night flight on New Year's Eve (who flies overnight on New Year's? Especially going west?).
Finally, after 15 minutes of her nonstop chatter, the plane begins to crash. I was hoping she'd be killed and someone else would pick up the camera (which would be ballsy and kind of awesome), but she just scrapes her arm up in this horrific crash that tears the plane in half. There are about 8 or 9 survivors, and after 15 minutes of arguing, a monster starts picking them off. It's not until the final seconds of the movie that we finally get a real look at the thing, and to be fair it's insanely awesome (hopefully no one's spoiled its nature yet, if you plan to watch the movie anyway - the trailer more or less gives it away, however), but it could be the poster child for the phrase "Too Little, Too Late", as we've suffered far too much for this rather batshit reveal to make up for the rest.
See, you might have noticed that I put "writers" in quotes above - the movie was actually improvised by its actors (and shot in 5 days), and it shows. I like how the movie was mostly shot in long takes - an experiment that would probably really kick ass with more competent actors. These folks, while not terrible (I've certainly seen worse performers - Poughkeepsie Tapes, anyone?), are not the best improvisers in the world, as they repeatedly flub their own made up lines and say the same things over and over. No found footage movie has ever been known for its crackerjack dialogue and complex characters, but even by the genre's low bar in this department, it's pretty bad.
It also suffers repeatedly from my biggest pet peeve in found footage movies: people filming reactions instead of the thing that is putting them in danger. Far too often the person operating the camera is thinking in terms of cinema instead of character, and thus they defeat the purpose of using this particularly format. So they hear someone screaming off in the distance, plus the roar of the monster, and the girl with the camera gets reactions of the other survivors, because she's apparently not so scared about everything that's happened that she'd forget to make this tape visually interesting for later viewing. It's even more obnoxious than the "Why are they still filming?" question, because that one you just sort of have to go with (and in night-set movies like this, the answer is "To keep the light on so they can see") - repeated offenses of this just mean that the filmmakers don't understand their chosen format. Blair Witch Project quite often didn't film its "money shots" with much flair, and for my money it's still the best of the lot.
So it's probably more of an accident that they get a few things right. It won't make anyone forget about Lost or The Grey, but the plane crash is pretty well done for a low budget POV movie, and the resulting wreckage is equally impressive (though the plane seems to have changed models). The closing scene is also pretty grim, providing a good shock moment before the aforementioned full reveal of the monster. And if you're a horror geek, you can appreciate that they shot the film at the Veluzat Ranch, same place as Friday the 13th Part 3 (another gimmick movie!) and House Of 1000 Corpses. And if you're like me and like to try to figure out who the Air Marshal is whenever you fly, they make it a little more difficult by having theirs sit in the plane's back row. For years I've assumed they were near the front, so they could, you know, protect the cockpit in a timely manner, but these guys seem to think it's just as likely that they will be in the very back, protecting the bathrooms and drink cart when it's not in service.
(Yes, I had to work another complaint into the "on the other hand" paragraph.)
With so many found footage movies out there, even I have trouble keeping up with them all, so I assume most people won't be bothering with this one anyway. But just in case you stumble across it, I think you can do better. As with slasher films, it's a sub-genre with more misses than hits, but the key difference is that it lends itself to more creativity. Unfortunately, that creativity is scarcely on display here, and I can't in good conscience recommend you suffer through all the bickering and stumbled dialogue to get to that pretty wonderful final 30 seconds.
What say you?