Recently on the Son of Celluloid facebook page, I made the statement that until Paranormal Activity 4 comes out, I will not watch or review any found footage ghost movies. I believe that everything that can be done with that particular subgenre has been done. Repeatedly. I’m just sick as hell of them. Then, I heard about Area 407. It’s a FFF (which means found footage flick for those of you who are new ‘round these parts) with dinosaurs. Ok, that’s original, I’d love to check it out. Dinosaurs rule! Well folks, after watching this flick, I’m amending my statement. Until PA4 is released I intend to not watch any more FFFs at all. That’s right, I’m done with found footage. If you’re thinking about sending me a screener of your latest found footage opus, first ask yourself “did I make something absolutely earth-shattering?” If not, don’t bother. So, Area 407, what have you got for us?
First the synopsis: “After taking off on a flight from New York to Los Angeles on New Years Eve, the passengers of Flight 37A are soon sent into shock and alarm as the plane experiences severe turbulence. The relentless weather attack causes panic and terror amongst the passengers until the plane ultimately crashes in a remote government-testing reserve, AREA 407. Through footage captured by two teenage sisters, the accident and crash lead to further events that should not be viewed by the faint of heart. As they continue to film, it becomes apparent that the remaining survivors of Flight 37A may not survive the night.”
Before we talk about the actual movie, lets talk about trailers for a minute. Class, what is a movie trailer? That’s right, it’s a tease to make you want to see the movie. You guys have been studying. Basically, a trailer is saying “So, you think this stuff’s cool? Well, this is the free stuff. You should pay to see the rest of the cool stuff that we’re not showing you.” That’s the basic understanding between viewer and trailer. This is going to be a spoiler, which I normally hate doing, but in this case I think I’m doing you a favor. Ready? Ok, here it goes…every shot of the dinosaurs that is in this movie, EVERY SINGLE ONE, is in the trailer. If you watch it, you have seen every iota of dinosaur footage there is. Even the film ending money shot. It’s in there. This movie is sold on the promise of dinosaurs. There’s a huge freakin’ dinosaur eye on the poster. I was expecting what I saw in the trailer to be a taste of what I was to see. Instead, that was all I saw. That’s what’s known as a bait and switch. That’s ripping the audience off. Had they given us one fleeting dino-shot in the trailer and not the money shot, it still would have been a huge let down, but it would at least be playing fair with the viewer. I didn’t come for the shaky cam, I came for the dinos, and that was a damn dirty trick. Shame on you.
Actually, the fact that we never saw the dinos aside from the 10 seconds in the trailer could have something to do with the way this thing is shot. We all expect shaky cam in a FFF. Hell, aside from POV shots in regular movies, it’s the only time shaky cam is acceptable. Here, the little girl filming swings that camera around like a booger that she can’t get off her finger. If Blair Witch made you seasick, have your Dramamine ready before you hit play on this one. We also expect whoever is holding the camera to act illogically and unrealistically in a FFF. That’s kindof a necessity, since rational people would throw the camera down and run, but then you don’t have much of a movie now do you? Here, though, it gets taken to a new level. The characters spend a ridiculous amount of time pointing at weird noises off in the distance or seeing something moving and screaming “What is THAT!” Everyone’s looking. The little girl with the camera, however, is still staring at the other survivors. I want to see what they’re looking at. Why is the one with the camera the only one not looking in that direction? Doesn’t she want to know what’s out there too? When someone does get attacked, the cameragirl seems to be doing everything in her power to point the camera anywhere but at the action. She will intentionally move from an angle where we might actually see something for once to one where our view is blocked just as anything remotely interesting begins. This happens multiple times. If you care enough about this footage that you’re going to risk your life to get it, wouldn’t you do your damnedest to get as much of the action on screen as possible? Apparently not this annoying little scamp. I won’t go into how annoying some of the rest of the cast is, particularly Charlie.
The flick isn’t all bad though. Actually, everything up to the plane crash is handled quite well. We get a good idea of who all the characters are though their interactions on the plane. It’s not in depth character building, but it certainly does the trick. Unfortunately that’s as far as most character’s development really goes. That’s not to say that there aren’t good characters. There are actually two that I rather enjoyed. Samantha Sloyan is excellent as Lois the flight attendant. The way she tries to keep everything together after the crash is an interesting play on what flight attendants are trained to do in that situation, and watching her fight to keep her composure is fascinating. Great performance. The other bright spot is James Lyons as Jimmy. Jimmy is a likable guy, an ex combat journalist in Afghanistan and Iraq, and ends up playing the “hero type” quite effectively. The plane crash itself is handled very well. That moment was a study in making a low budget work for you. That plane crash, without having to have expensive special effects, was as realistically portrayed as any I’ve seen. That was awesome.
As far back as Blair Witch, one of the criticisms I’ve heard people throw around about FFFs is that “nothing happened in that movie.” Never before has that been truer than in Area 407. The problem is, they had so many interesting ways they could have gone with it. The most obvious is, well, dinosaurs. With more dino action, this could have been a lot of fun. That’s the hook for this movie, and if they would have delivered, the other faults could have been easily forgiven. That, of course, was probably a budgetary issue. Maybe they just should have dropped the dino angle altogether and done something they could afford to do right. Lets say, however, that you keep the dino angle. There’s other stuff you can do to make the flick more interesting. You have a character that is a former combat photographer. Why the hell is he not the one with the camera? That’s an interesting angle that I don’t think has been used before. How about digging a little into why there’s a military area housing dinosaurs in the first place? That could have been seriously intriguing. Instead of any of those, all that happens from that excellent plane crash onward is running, yelling, and crying in the dark, along with characters fighting amongst themselves, more running, yelling, and crying in the dark, repeat, repeat, repeat.This is one of those films with a killer premise that just falls flat. There isn’t any suspense, there’s precious little action, and there’s even less freakin’ dinosaurs. I’m guessing the end was supposed to be some kind of twist. If so it was both badly telegraphed and given away in the trailer. I had such high hopes for this flick. I was hoping it would prove me wrong and show me that there are still things left to do with the FFF gimmick. Instead it just put the final nail in the coffin of my patience with this played out subgenre. IFC distributes some great films normally. Someone must have been asleep on the job when they picked this one up. One severed thumb down. The first twenty minutes are pretty damn good, so Nathan says check that part out. Then go watch Carnosaur instead.