Incentive Filmed Entertainment, Blumhouse/ Solana Films/ Room 101 Production, in association with IM Global. An Oren Peli film. 2015'. Color. 90-minutes. Starring: Reid Warner, Ben Rovner, Darrin Bragg, Jelena Nik. Cameos by George Knapp, Glenn Campbell and Norio Hayakawa. Written by Oren Peli and Christopher Denham. Directed by Oren Peli. Edited by Blake Maniquis and Jake York. Executive Producers: Stuart Ford, Amir Zbeda, Matthew Rowland, Oren Peli, Steven Schneider. Produced by Jason Blum. Rated R.
Director Oren Peli takes a break from his "Paranormal" franchise to tackle the Area 51 urban legend. The outting doesn't however abandon the horror genre altogether. It will leave you breathless as you "go along for the ride" with a team of friends as they penetrate "layer upon layer" into Area 51's forbidden complex in their quest for "the truth". If you like sitting on the edge of your seat and being genuinely terrified this is the movie for you!
The movie receives high marks for authenticity ( -for it's accurate portray- al of the forbidden complex's perimeter defenses, alleged ET goings-on and cameos by story-related principles like veteran Art Bell/ "Coast-to- Coast AM" broadcaster George Knapp and Area 51/ UFO researchers Glenn Campbell and Norio Hayakawa ).
I stumbled across this flick on my library's "new releases" shelf a while back. At the time, I had scant knowledge of Oren Peli or his "Paranormal" franchise. I'd seen the various "Paranormal" flicks sitting on my library's shelves but totally ignored them as I'm not into horror. Since I have an interest in UFO's ( -and actively researched the phenomena from 1986-1992' ), I decided to give the DVD a spin not really knowing what to expect. I'm really glad I did. This movie absolutely rocks!
The flick opens abruptly with a series of brief interview snippets. People who knew the film's lead characters ( -Reid and his friends ) talking about them in the "past tense" ( -commenting on their strange disappearance, hinting at a possible "cover-up" ) ending with veteran radio personality George Knapp cryptically commenting: "I would think that a person who tried to sneak into Area 51 and get video,...even a person who succeeded in getting that video -would be in serious trouble...". If that "teaser" doesn't hook you, I don't know what will! It certainly did me.
After the spare, music-less movie title, the story begins with a group of three college-aged pals ( "Reid" -played by Reid Warner, "Ben" -played by Ben Rovner, and "Darrin" -played by Darrin Bragg ) practicing their "pick-up" lines en-route to a house party. Their herky-jerky "Blair Witch Project" style of self-document- ing themselves on video is used throughout the rest of the film. While some may find this technique annoying, I actually like it ( when it's done well -as is the case in this movie ). It lends an air of "immediacy" that yanks the viewer into the scene, almost making them a co-participant in the action.
Movie leads "Reid", "Darrin" and "Ben" revel at making it to Area 51's signed perimeter. Their lighthearted banter quickly turns serious as they cross the border on their late night sojourn onto the desolate base. The team's use of high-tech gadgetry ( -like a frequency jammer, freon suits, niamiacin ammonia pills, wearable Sony digital HQ mini-cams, etc. ) lend to the flick's believability.
Arriving at the party and partaking in the festivities ( "beer bong", "shots drinking",etc. ), Reid accepts a party challenge -which he loses -leading to an impromptu karaoke rap session ( -in front of the party's inebriated throng of onlookers ) during which Reid is "abducted" ( -beamed up? ) as the house lights go out. After the lights come back on Reid's gone ( -to the consternation of his pals who think he's ducked out of the challenge ).
Oren's matter-of-fact portrayal of irresponsible substance-abuse in this sequence paints all young adults with a broad brush -branding them as nothing more than mindless alcoholics and sex addicts. Too bad Oren had to go there. Typical Hollywood thinking. Is this really the ONLY scenario he could've utilized as a storyline pretext for Reid's abduction?
After the party, as Darrin and Ben are cruising the neighborhood in search of Reid -Darrin jams on the brakes. A dazed Reid is seen in the headlights. Darrin and Ben exclaim some expletives. Where did Reid come from they ask? The story resumes three months later as Reid, Darrin and a reluctant Ben are packing up an assort-ment of high-tech surveillance gear ( -including a frequency jammer, wearable Sony mini-cam, batteries, BLM map, a portable video monitor, etc. ) prior to taking a road trip to Las Vegas.
Objective: sneak into Area 51 and prove it exists!
On the road to Las Vegas. Reid, Darrin and Ben discuss the break-in. "It would be easier to rob a bank than to break into Area 51!" protests Ben. Reid and Darrin aren't so convinced. With the help of Jelena ( -played by Jelena Nik ), Reid is confident they can actually get inside the base.
As the group is packing up their SUV, Ben -toying with the taser they're bringing -accidentally zaps himself. Reid, clearly the "older brother" of the two, sardonically quips "never leave dangerous toys around children..." to the ever-running camera ( -after helping Ben to his feet ). It's a genuinely funny moment that any guy recalling their goofy high school or college friends will immediately identify with.
Behind the wheel en-route to Las Vegas, Ben declares "it would be easier to rob a bank than to break into Area 51!" Reid, attempting to calm Ben's longstanding opposition to the plan, points to the opened BLM map on the car seat -mentioning it would be impossible for base security to monitor every inch of a base the size of Connecticutt. However, Ben remains skeptical and begins questioning the legitimacy of Jelena's information ( -as Reid places a call in to her from his cell phone ).
After checking into the Hooter's "Presidential Suite", which Ben is obviously impressed with ( -and which "coincidentally" overlooks Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport -where Area 51 workers are allegedly flown to the base from ), the group heads out for some Las Vegas-style nightlife. Ben says if they can manage to smuggle their Sony mini cam past the security bouncers of a strip club "they're golden" ( -and shouldn't have a problem getting it past Area 51's security ). So, they visit the club.
"Jelena" ( -played by Jelena Nik ) plays the daughter of an Area 51 worker. It is her dad's info and maps the group will depend upon to get inside the base. After following her to a storage facility ( -where she esconsed her father's trunk load of info ), she acknowledges it was this info that got her dad killed -adding a somber note of reality to the "break in" they're about to attempt.
Again, the movie takes Hollywood's "easy out", using the strip club visit as an excuse to inject some Hollywood sleaze into the proceedings. Of course, Oren and his crew couldn't possibly have thought of another storyline device to test the "stealthiness" of the mini-cam out on. Right! Like the previous "party scene", the viewer's intelligence is once again insulted. Spare yourself. Make use of your "chapter-forward" button. You'll miss nothing.
The next morning, the group meets "Jelena" at a Denny's ( ? ). She takes them to a storage facility to peruse the trunk load of sensitive info her father smuggled out of the base ( -before he was fired ). The ever appre-hensive Ben quips "nothing good happens at storage facilities -case in point: have you seen "Silence of the Lambs"? While there, Jelena tells them they'll need access codes, badges and fingerprints to access the many layers of security once they're inside the base. She hands them a snapshot of the man her father used to follow around on the base.
Back at their hotel suite, Reid meets with ( real life UFO documentarian ) Norio Hayakawa who educates him on the bases's perimeter defenses. The following day, after tailing the man in Jelena's photo from the JANET ( Just Another Non-Existent Terminal ) airline terminal -after his plane lands ( -to his Las Vegas home ), Reid and Darrin break into his home. Ben, furious at not being aprised of the home break-in ahead of time, waits fuming in the SUV as the team's unwilling "look-out".
Making use of grainy "night vision" film, the movie's rough and tumble cinema-verite' style yanks you into the action. Intense, nerve-racking moments include watching one of the team members wait motionless as a snake slithers over their leg ( -while they're pinned down in the sage brush under a hovering copter's searchlight ). Yikes!
And while I could go on, giving you a "minute-by-minute" description of the film, I won't. That would rob you of the fun of discovering the movie yourself. So, if my description interests you so far -check out "Area 51" yourself! If you're interested in UFO's and the alleged ET goings on at Area 51, you're bound to find this film compelling. If you're a fan of conspiracy thrillers, again this movie has your name written all over it. Even horror fans will find things ( scary things ) to like within this film. Despite it's sci-fi pedigree.
The acting is first-rate. I can't recall a movie in recent memory that has more believable acting than this one. These relatively unknown actors ( -Reid Warner, Ben Rovner, Darrin Bragg, Jelena Nik ) and bit players at the "Lil AlieInn", play their parts so seamlessly and naturally you totally believe they are who they're portraying. Let's hope that we see these actors in future films because they are convincingly believable.
Penetrating Area 51's labyrinthine maze of underground compart-ments and coming to a cave-like entrance , Reid and Jelena find themselves bathed in and then floating in a gauzy white light.
I won't describe what happens next so that you can be freaked out for yourself when you watch the film. Is it scary? You bet. And pay attention for the easily missed aliens in the background. You'll be scared as much by what you don't see -as by what you do!
The ending of this film was quite unexpected. At least for me. Some will say it leaves lots of unresolved questions. But this may be the point. Opening up the prospect for a sequel. I know that I would certainly like to see Reid, Ben, Darrin and Jelena brought back ( -to see what happened to them ). And I bet other viewers would too. What I will say about the ending is that it's one of the freakiest movie endings I've ever seen. The cinematography and special-effects work really well. And damn, I'd like to know how they got those last shots of Ben and Darrin! They exit the scene in a most unusual way....
Where are we? What is this place? Questions Reid and Jelena feverishly ponder when they stumble into the base's "white area". But the clue may have been hinted at by one of the "Lil AlieInn" patrons. Jelena! What's happened to Jelena! Am I next?
The movie's production values are sparse and minimal. No intro or credit roll music. Just silence -well employed. Edits are tight, fast and clean. The movie has a pared-down look. No excess here. Just lean and mean "minimalism". Don't expect flashy C.G'd aliens or monsters either. What C.G. there is, is saved til the end ( -well at least I think that's C.G. ). And it works incredibly well. But believe me, you can be scared by the unseen just as much as you can by the "seen". This movie proves that. "Area 51" should be required viewing for micro-budget film makers ( -showing what can be accomplished on a limited budget ).
And one last thing: wait past the credits. There's a little surprise. I suspected this parting "egg" instinctively and was proven right. However, I think they could've included a lot more ( -in terms of visual clues ) in this momentary parting shot. But cool idea none-the-less. A little something extra to ponder.
This DVD screams for "extras" ( i.e: "behind the scenes" features showing how the movie was made ). I'd love to have seen some interviews with the cast. Maybe a feature fleshing-out the "Area 51" urban myth ( -for the uninitiated ). A feature on the legendary "Lil' AlieInn" diner. Maybe some short interviews with Norio Hayakawa, Glenn Campbell and George Knapp ( -who could've added their research, observations and real life experiences adding some "context" to the flick ). Maybe a few alternative ending "eggs".
These bonus features would've been easy to do. And they would've added immeasurably to the disc's desirability. I doubt they would've added much to the production costs either. I'm mystified as to why this wasn't done. Hopefully, Oren will come to his senses and release a Special "Collector's Edition" ( -with these added features ) in the future. I certainly hope so!
Area 51 researcher Glenn Campbell "tolerates" intruding base narc. Oren could've featured Glenn Campbell, Norio Hayakawa and George Knapp in a "bonus segment" but chose not to. Their extensive subject knowledge would've made for a compelling "bonus feature". Hopefully, Oren will consider this in a future "Collector's Edition" version.
Bottom line: This is a great movie! Apart from the stupid "party" and "strip club" scenes ( -totally superfluous and unnecessary ), "Area 51" gets a solid "thumbs up" from me. Buy or rent it and prepare yourself for an "edge of your seat" white knuckles viewing experience!
For a sneak peek of "Area 51", check out the movie trailer below. Micro-budget film makers take note: This is HOW you edit together a great movie trailer! It's compelling and leaves you "wanting more".