In recent years, Oren Peli has gone from the promising young director of the original Paranormal Activity to a veritable “horror mogul,” with his name attached (albeit as a producer) to projects as varied as Rob Zombie’s Lords Of Salem, Barry Levinson’s The Bay, and the blockbuster Insidious series. And yet, for all his newfound clout, his sophomore directorial effort, Area 51, has been sitting around, unreleased, since filming on it wrapped in 2009.
You’d figure there must be a good reason for that, of course (and there is), but the funny thing is that, just when everybody finally forgot about this thing, it quietly (hell, silently, even) made its way onto various “home viewing platforms” (including Netflix, which is how I caught it — perhaps worth noting is the fact that it’s not, to the best of my knowledge, available on either Blu-ray or DVD yet) just a few months ago. So now, for better or for worse, we can all finally see this flick for ourselves and theorize as to why it was allowed to get dusty in the corner for all these years. Ironically, though, for a movie based around the conceit of four conspiracy-obsessed twenty-somethings discovering the “truth” about one of the government’s best-kept secrets, the simple fact is that no mysterious cabal was preventing the public from seeing this — it just isn’t very good, and the studio obviously knew they had a lemon on their hands.
Come to think of it, the whole of Area 51 is so listless, dull, and tread-worn that I wouldn’t be too surprised if it was none other than Peli himself who fought hardest to ensure that it never saw the light of day. But who knows? Maybe that’s just a crazy conspiracy theory.
Here’s our set-up : three dudes with a camcorder (Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, and Ben Rovner — all of whom are (yawn!) supposedly “playing themselves”) are filming an on-the-fly documentary centered around them boozing, carousing, and generally acting like the assholes they so clearly and obviously are. Then they get bored with that, add a token female to their posse (Jelena Nik), and decide they’re going to bust into Area 51 to find out what the government’s been keeping under lock and key at the supposed site of history’s most famous supposed flying saucer crash once and for all. They do this by busting into the home of a guy who works at the base and procuring an “all-access” card key, and once inside, despite not being in military uniform or anything of the sort, they seem free to go about their business more or less unmolested.
In fairness to Peli and his largely talent-free cast, there are a small handful of “oh, shit, I think I hear footsteps!” moments, but on the whole the ease with which this parade of douchebags is able to navigate around the building without getting caught is pretty remarkable — unless, of course, there really is nothing of interest to find there. Which is certainly the case for the first 45-odd-minutes of their exploration/B-and-E job.
Okay, yeah, sooner or later they really do find some shit they’re not supposed to, but I’m sorry — a few floating rocks are in no way gonna save this flick by that point. Seriously, Area 51 almost dares you to remain interested in it, and while we do — eventually — get to some “good stuff,” it’s way too little way too late, the movie’s already lost that just-mentioned dare, and no way are you going to get suckered back in for about 15-20 minutes of semi-involving stuff before the credits roll. Unless, I suppose, you’re a real glutton for punishment, a real imbecile, or both.
On the positive front, Peli and co-screenwriter Christopher Denham do work in some appearances by real-life people who purportedly claim to have some sort of involvement with the “actual” Area 51 “phenomenon,” and when you combine that fact with the genuinely shaky use of “shaky-cam” here, it gives the project a reasonably authentic “documentary” feel — but so what? Even if this somehow was the “real deal,” it would still be slow-paced, boring, and flatter than Keira Knightley’s chest.
What’s hiding at Area 51? Nothing interesting.