Review: Area 407 is All Screams, No Scares

Thanks to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, the easily profitable likes of found-footage horror have remained persistent in the decade since. Films like the Paranormal Activity series, the [REC] franchise (remade in the States as Quarantine), 2008’s Cloverfield, and 2010’s The Last Exorcism have generally done well by the concept. And yet, for every one of those success stories, there’s a Diary of the Dead, The Devil Inside, or newcomer Area 407 that gives the formula a bad name all over again.

Precocious pre-teen Trish (Abigail Schrader) is flying home from New York to Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve -- time zones be damned -- with older sister Jess (Samantha Lester) and naturally insists on filming everything during the flight. Once their plane crashes, though, the only survivors are them, flight attendant Lois (Samantha Sloyan), photojournalist Jimmy (James Lyons), air marshal Laura (Melanie Lyons), drunken boor Charlie (Brendan Patrick Connor), and the newly wife-less Tom (Ken Garcia). They’ve crashed in a desolate bit of desert, without a cell tower or helpful human being around for miles. Once something with claws begins picking off the group one by one, it becomes more apparent why it might be in somebody’s best interests to keep this plane and its passengers from being found.

It’s tricky to know how much should be revealed from here -- the official synopsis plays vague with the nature of their menace, while the trailer and poster pretty much give it right up -- but there’s hardly anything else to mention besides what the Something Else is. Why did the plane crash? Chalk it up to weather and fate. What was the purpose behind the ill-defined Mesa Experiment? Hell if I know. Yet I could rattle off one title of a particular blockbuster, and you’d know exactly where Area 407 is going; I won’t bother, though, because the surprises are already so few and far between.

Directors Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin indulge in all the shouting, shaking, and static that’s par for the course in thrillers of this ilk, half-capturing shrill arguments between one-note characters before they flee into the night. If the on-screen credits are to believed, Robert Shepyer wrote the screenplay for which five other people (Fabrigar and Wallin included) had to cook up the story, and if the Internet Movie Database is to be trusted -- and it shouldn’t necessarily be -- the cast ad-libbed the entire film over a five-day shoot.

That feat would be more impressive if it weren’t so irritatingly apparent from the end result. Every character talks in circles around the others, often loudly repeating their one argument for the safety of the group at any given moment as if perpetually stalling until somebody gets yanked off-screen (and it’s never an effective shock -- in fact, one character even makes a point of decrying how vulnerable they would all be outdoors, only to make everyone stop for an abrupt bathroom break once the group ventures back into the wilderness).

When the survivors are outside, we’re treated to snarling sound effects, far-off gunshots, and the occasional dodgy creature effect, and when they’re indoors, it somehow takes this lot hours to notice a vital box of supplies in the corner of a room. When Character A asks Character B if they remember the plan, and Character B answers in the affirmative, Character A still proceeds to repeat the plan for the sake of the audience. Another exchange: “Everyone’s dead...” “Everyone’s dead?” “Everyone’s dead.” Deaf’s more like it, especially when one considers the final shot...

For some reason, the motivation of panic seems like a consistent rationale for ensemble hysteria in low-budget films like these, and I’d be able to forgive it all -- well, most of it -- if Area 407 had actually made with some effective frights or a more inventive mythology rather than amateurishly cashing in on this trend of handheld hokum.

Area 407 is now playing in select cities and also available on demand through cable providers, Amazon, iTunes, and such.

Grade: D