IFC Entertainment is a well-known distributor and leader in the independent film industry. You might assume their films would be high-brow international or “art cinema” films, but interestingly they have multiple brands and a range of films. One of their more recent releases is Area 407, released on DVD, which joins the ranks of other movies that use “found footage” as both an aesthetic choice and a narrative structure. You know, films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity or even to some degree Coverfield, all using a first-person form of storytelling. These are films that require a different type of suspension of disbelief than your typical horror film, and when done well, they can rattle an audience more than our typical third-person film where our point of view is greater than the characters’.
As well as this somewhat new genre of “found footage” cinema stories, Area 407 owes to low budget horror films such as The Evil Dead and larger budget films (which I’ll refrain from naming because to do so would be a bit of a spoiler, but when you see the monster in this film, you’ll have a pretty good sense of what those larger budget films might be).
Without getting into all the nuances of the set up, the footage that we watch has been recovered from the site of a plane crash and was for the most part recorded by two teenaged sisters. The film starts as they board a flight home, and we meet various characters who will survive the crash and fight to survive during a long night of confusing, frightening and potentially conspiratorial events. The plane crash and some of the sequences are quite effective, with the tension building as the survivors are killed one by one by something in the darkness. One of the eeriest moments is when they seem to have been found and rescue is imminent.
The film is satisfyingly bleak, and Melanie Lyons stands out as Laura, whom we learn more about as the film progresses – she was the one character/performance I believed pretty much throughout. Lyons is definitely someone to watch out for. The rest of the cast does decently with the material, though there moments when the film seems to spend more time than necessary having characters scream – in general and at each other – as a way to build suspense. Those moments eventually lose their impact and could benefit from some tighter editing. These moments being to reflect some weaknesses in the writing and characterizations; for example, responses to the crash primarily seem to be within a very narrow range (loud panic) – this may be why Laura is a bit of fresh air in the scenario, and one wishes for other characters who are either so in shock as to not have much emotional affect or who are able to talk without screaming and arguing. Pretty soon it begins to feel a bit like there’s nothing for these characters to really do (other than scream) and that the film is starting to stretch its concept a bit thin. Which is too bad, because it’s a solid concept and there is nice use of the plane, a deserted town and a cabin.
Earlier I said that these types of films require a different kind of suspension of disbelief, and the one thing that began to disrupt that for me is the way in which the light on the camera is constantly aimed at and shining into people’s eyes and faces in a way that would make it impossible for them to see anything that was happening – it becomes “movie lighting” that is contrary to any motivation within the events on the screen. There’s no doubt that lighting is a challenge in this kind of film, which is partly why some of the ways in which the plane crash site itself is shot becomes frustrating (why can’t we see to the left of the wreckage?). The film works best when it forgets that we need to see people’s faces and the camera work seems more organic, getting lost in the moment (and the events on the screen) such as moving through the deserted town or calling out to a moving car. Daylight ultimately comes as a relief, and the final moments of the film are pretty significantly foreshadowed and yet seem appropriate to the story we’ve just seen.
While not perfect, Area 407is an interesting little thriller.