(US - 2015)
PRESERVATION) Christopher Denham in 2011 to rewrite the third act at the behest of underwhelmed studio execs and bored test audiences (depending on who's telling the story, Denham may have also directed the 2011 reshoots). Two years went by with no progress when Peli returned in 2013 and did some additional rewrites and reshoots, and spent the next year or so heroically trying to salvage the wreckage. Through their "Insurge" genre label, Paramount very quietly released AREA 51 on VOD and some Alamo Drafthouse locations for a weekend run, grossing $7500 against a $5 million budget. The released version still carries a 2011 copyright, so it's unknown if what's hitting Blu-ray and DVD is an earlier cut or if Paramount simply didn't care enough to update the final credits.
Is AREA 51 that bad? Yeah, pretty much. Sure, the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have gotten increasingly abysmal--no matter how great that "fan-cam" bit was in the third entry--but Peli hasn't had anything to do with them aside from a contractual producer and a superfluous "Based on characters created by" credit since his original film. There was little reason to believe that his own PA follow-up would end up being one of the worst examples of the found-footage genre. Back in 2009, before found-footage became the single most regrettable trend in modern horror cinema (along with the seemingly endless string of terrible demonic possession movies), the notion of such a film tackling the Area 51 conspiracies might've been a good idea, but Peli stumbles at every turn. He does get a few genuinely creepy images in the final ten minutes, but it takes 80 minutes to get there. Most of the time, we follow three dudebros--Reid (Reid Warner), Darrin (Darrin Bragg), and Ben (Ben Rovner) on their way to Nevada as Darrin and Ben indulge Reid's obsession with Area 51. They meet up with Jelena (Jelena Nik), an Area 51 conspiracy theorist Reid met online, and whose father worked at the base and committed suicide--of course, she thinks he was killed for asking too many questions. Once they finally and quite improbably get inside the base--this is after a ludicrous breaking-and-entering into a top security officer's home to steal his ID badge and a swipe a fingerprint off a cologne bottle in a long sequence so idiotic that the film never recovers from it--Reid, Jelena, and Darrin (Ben waits in the SUV) do a lot of walking around long corridors using night vision, which is easy since the only employees seen are occasional maintenance guys driving a cart. The climax basically takes the finale of BLAIR WITCH and adds some fleeting glimpses of the standard-issue extraterrestrials while Reid and Jelena run around and keep incessantly and breathlessly repeating "We gotta get outta here!" Had this played in theaters, there's no doubt the audience would've been right there with them in sharing that sentiment. (R, 91 mins)
WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD
(Australia - 2015)