We drank manhattans and watched Area 51, the science fiction/horror found-footage film from the director of Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli.
And it was… pretty okay! Word of this film has been buzzing around the internet for literally years; I understand most of it was filmed in 2009, and movies delayed that long are often delayed for a reason. This one was pretty solid, though, and actually has some neat heist-film elements as the obsessed probably-abductee protagonist cajoles his friends (who exhibit varying levels of reluctance) into preparing to infiltrate the famed Air Force Base of the title in search of proof of alien visitors. The team grows to include the conspiracy theorist daughter of an assassinated Area 51 employee, who pleasantly never becomes a love interest.
They gather gizmos, learn to defeat motion sensors, chat with alien abduction theorists who foreshadow things we’ll see later, and have a tense stake-out and break-in scene to steal a key card to access hidden portions of the base. (It wouldn’t be an Oren Peli movie without footage of sinister things happening in the vicinity of people sleeping in bed, now would it?)
The first part of the base infiltration is pretty much what you’d expect, with their plan more-or-less working until it suddenly doesn’t, lots of moments where they nearly get captured by soldiers, and gross and/or cool encounters with alien tech and biology. In the last quarter or so things get darker, weirder, and more inexplicable, mostly in a good way, though it does fall prey to the “last-ten-minutes-of-every-found-footage-horror-movie” problem: people scrabbling around in a dark hole somewhere with a camera so shaky it’s impossible to tell what’s going on.
So, it was an enjoyable movie, but I couldn’t help but compare it not entirely favorably to Alien Abduction, the 2014 film about aliens and the Brown Mountain Lights — which I inexplicably failed to review, so I’ll do so now. The endings are almost identical, and are also the most obvious way to end an alien abduction found footage movie. (Just guess what happens to the camera; you’ll probably be right.) It’s a neat enough ending, but I was (unfairly) disappointed to see Peli “repeat” it, even though his was probably actually filmed first.
The aliens in Alien Abduction are creepier, but a lot of that is down to setting and circumstance: half-glimpsed aliens menacing innocent tourists (including a kid) in the backwoods are more disturbing than half-glimpsed aliens menacing some incredibly dumb and/or obsessed twenty-somethings who broke into a secret military base.
Alien Abduction also had the advantage of being set near where I went to college, and includes some documentary footage of my onetime astronomy prof Dr. Caton talking about the Brown Mountain Lights — talk about aiding my suspension of disbelief and increasing verisimilitude! (His bit is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVRJ26bzkdM).
If you can only watch one, go with Alien Abduction. (My co-drinker-and-watcher Katrina might disagree, as she prefers desert landscapes to mountain ones). Happily, you can watch both, and then go watch Fire in the Sky too for a triple feature, and why not also read Kim Newman and Paul McAuley’s great alien-abduction-movie story “Residuals” while you’re at it; here, it’s even free online: http://www.baenebooks.com/chapters/9781625791061/9781625791061___3.htm