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I wanted to like this film. While many critics have become
tired of the found-footage style of filmmaking, I’ve been a loud supporter,
championing the intelligence behind this often overused approach. Though I may
have become a bit nauseous from watching shaky footage, I’ve rarely become sick
of it, always discovering some new, smart technique the filmmakers implemented
to convey an organic feel.
I cheered for [REC], I loved CHRONICLE and THE RIVER made
the top of my TV viewing list last season. But after viewing AREA 407
(currently in select theaters and available on-demand from IFC), directed by
Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin, I’m ready to make a general announcement to
the film community: “OK, everyone. You have made some topnotch found-footage
movies. Stellar work! Now, let’s move on.” If only I could have made this
announcement before AREA 407.
A group of assorted stereotypical and incredibly flat
characters are on a plane traveling from New York City to Los Angeles on New
Year’s Eve. There’s the fat, belligerent man who keeps eating potato chips, the
cute cuddling lovebird couple, the swarthy photojournalist guy returning from
the Middle East and our perky camera-wielding protagonist, a teenager traveling
with her sister who has just graduated from college. Really, that’s where all
character development stops, in favor of painfully shaky, out-of-focus, blurry
motion. The plane crashes, and a few survivors struggle out of the rubble,
arguing about what to do next. Any good Boy Scout (or MAN VS. WILD fan) knows
you should build a fire first, but this group feels more comfortable wandering
around the fields and forest, being picked off one by one by some mysterious
large animal. And this is how the movie continues for the next hour and 30
If you want to make a found-footage film, you have to have
your characters behave as they would in real life. This theory is absent from
AREA 407, which can be summed up in two lines which are repeated endlessly
throughout its duration: “What was that sound?” and “Did you see that?”
Characters are constantly pointing off into unseen areas, questioning strange
sounds or rustling leaves. Too bad the camera/audience are never pointed that
way! Even after a huge crashing sound occurs just offscreen, the camera never
leaves the characters who are freaking out about the scary noise. In real life,
the cameraperson would have turned toward the epic cacophony as well, not just
staying focused on the victims to get an adequate capturing of everyone’s
acknowledgement that something much more exciting is happening just out of
frame. Because of this constant tactic, the audience never sees anything
happen; AREA 407 is built entirely out of secondary reaction shots.
The filmmakers try to compensate for the lack of
characterization and plot with blood spillage—not that the viewer ever sees any
of the blood actually spilled. The characters emerge from the plane crash
covered and dripping gooey fake redness. An hour later, they are still wet and
dripping, making me wonder why these people did not just keel over from their
endlessly leaking head wounds an hour before. Maybe then they would have held
the camera still for five seconds.
Ultimately, AREA 407 is a snoozefest, despite the terrific
first 15 minutes. The plane crash is awesome, exploiting a base fear we have
all experienced at 30,000 feet, being tossed around by unseen forces. I also
liked the last 20 seconds, with a final twist that made me a little happy to
see a highly unused monster make a return to the screen. Too bad its comeback
had to happen in such a painful movie.
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