Friday, April 27, 2012
The found footage genre has taken hold of our culture over the last few years. Thanks to a bunch of ill-fated college kids looking for a witch in the woods over a decade ago, the shaky cam revolution has become a $tandard, like it or not.
Even in the last few months we've seen a slew of profitable found footage movies, from the literal block-busting of Project X, to the high flying superhero smash Chronicle, these movies will continue their onslaught for years to come. AREA 407 (out today on VOD and in select theaters) lands in the more standard mystery/horror genre than some of the new crop, taking cues from the, ahem... "classics" of the genre, Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. Which of course, puts it in good company.
AREA 407 starts off with our protagonist, plucky 13-year-old Trish, and her older sister Jessie as they board a plane on New Years Eve to make the trek home to LA. Rarely do you get to see found footage movies from the point of view of a tiny slightly annoying tween (as opposed to bratty hipsters from movies like Cloverfield or Troll Hunter), but the kid-sister commentary and the often out of focus moments shooting down the aisles of the plane felt nicely realistic, something this genre typically lacks. Quickly we meet a band of interesting characters you actually hope won't die in some bizzarly mysterious way, like a photojournalist who just got back from Afghanistan (irony!), or a fat grumpy guy who just needs a drink. After the plane takes off and everybody celebrates the new year, all hell breaks lose. Planes are scary enough in real life, but watching a plane crash via a camera held by a 13 year old girl as her older sister is screaming "I love you, I'm sorry" right next to her is freakier than every Paranormal Activity movie combined.
After the crash the movie turns into an interesting amalgam of Cloverfield/Lost (Cloverlost? Lost Field?), or Blair Witch/Pitch Black (Witch Pitch? Black Witch? is that racist?). The survivors end up in a desolate area in the black of night with no bars on their cellphones and no help in sight, they can't even find the complementary peanut mix! (SPOILER ALERT- They find the peanuts - END SPOILER ALERT). To make matters worse they are being hunted by mysterious creatures with scary roars dropping bodies Night of The Lepus style (though sadly not as cute).
AREA 407 Trailer
What I liked most about this movie, and something that sets it apart in this genre, is that many of the scenes are done in extremely long takes. This seems like something that would be obvious to the found footage genre, until you watch a movie like AREA 407 and realize most shaky cam movies have a ton of cuts, or at least whip pan cuts. I ended up marveling at one of the scenes that seemed to go on for about 5 minutes without a cut, not only because the actors were challenged to act in a way that is more akin to a play than a movie (all of the dialogue was ad-libbed by the actors), but also because it's more believable that you would't be constantly turning the camera on and off in this situation.
Overall I enjoyed AREA 407, there were some great surprise moments, some solid acting and a few touches that made it feel more realistic than a lot of films of this genre. I feel like its biggest problem is an issue that is symptomatic to all found footage movies: it sags a little in the middle. However, in my opinion Chronicle is the only film like this that didn't have that problem, and that broke most of the edicts of the genre anyway. Come to think of it though, if I could give one note to the filmmakers, it would have been to give little Trish telekinesis, that would have really helped deal with those pesky monsters.
AREA 407 is now available nationwide on IFC Midnight Cable VOD and Digital Outlets (SundanceNOW, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, XBOX Zune, Playstation Unlimited) and select theaters.
We'll discuss AREA 407 on our next show, airing next Thursday and Friday (May 3-4) at Noon (PST) on Indie 100, with replays throughout the week on The Point.