Shot in a mere five days just outside of Santa Clarita, California, with almost no script (apparently the dialogue was entirely ad-libbed by the cast), 2012’s Area 407 (released in certain international markets under the title of Tape 407 for whatever reason) sounded like something of a departure from the usual “found footage” nonsense when I read its brief description on Hulu’s “mystery and suspense” list, so I decided to give it a go — and that was my first mistake. The second, and perhaps most unforgivable one, was sticking with it until the end.
Here’s our set-up : sisters Trish (played by Abigail Schrader) and Jessie (Samantha Lester) are on a New Year’s Eve flight from New York to Los Angeles — recording their whole “experience” as they go, of course — when their plane starts losing altitude and, eventually, crashes. They survive, as do a small handful of others, including the federal air marshalls on board (Melanie Lyons and the film’s co-director, Everette Wallin), one of whom is armed. Which comes in handy because, unbeknownst to them (at first), they’re smack-dab in the middle of a “top-secret government testing facility.” What’s being “tested” there? A new breed of animal super-predator that actually isn’t “new” at all — dinosaurs.
Wallin and his partner in cinematic crime, Dale Fabrigar, aren’t to be blamed for all of the mess that ensues, of course — they probably blew half their budget on the wreckage of a decommissioned 747 that they needed and most of the other half on a CGI dinosaur that they wisely keep out of view for all of about five minutes (yes, it’s that unconvincing), but they certainly shoulder most of the responsibility for the fact that their flick has none of the suspense required to mitigate the lameness of their creature’s eventual “reveal,” and they certainly don’t even appear to be trying to coax anything other than completely annoying performances out of any of their cast members (although the fact that they had to make their own lines up as they went along probably didn’t help matters in that regard). The first 90% or so of the film is both entirely predictable and entirely lackluster, but here’s the kicker — that’s the good (relatively speaking, of course) part.
Once we get to see the big, scary raptor, our less-than-intrepid filmmakers get a wild hair to take things in a totally unexpected direction (that I won’t “spoil”) and things quickly devolve from just plain, garden-variety bad to something far worse. I appreciate the fact that they apparently knew they had a lemon on their hands here, but sometimes it’s best to just ride out your losing hand and attempt to minimize the damage rather than pulling a “wild card” from the deck and gambling on a big payoff. Especially when said payoff falls woefully short of the mark. And that will about do it for our playing-card analogies here, I promise.
Seriously, though, the unexpected isn’t always good, and their “surprise ending” is so poorly-conceived that it takes a forgettable film and turns it into something you’ll end up remembering for all the wrong reasons. I don’t know what — or even if — they were thinking here, but they should have just left well enough alone and, I dunno, either had everyone die or get rescued (doesn’t really matter which) off-camera, then roll the credits and walk away. Instead, they decide to light off some last-minute fireworks that turn out to be duds.
So, yeah — this is another “mockumentary” horror on Hulu that you can — and should — skip. My batting average with these is depressingly low right now, it has to be said, so let’s hope I find something better — ideally something that might even be worth writing about — when I delve back into the queue tonight.