When one sits down to watch a found footage movie it inevitably comes with the baggage of all the successes and failures of the sub-genre’s past. It’s not fair, but it’s true. As soon as you see the shaky, camcorder format your brain flashes back to every found footage movie you’ve ever seen and processes it in the context of that style. When done well, it can add tension, drama, and realism. When done badly, it comes off as a sloppy, cheap cash grab that inspires the cynic in all of us. While Area 407 may not succeed in every aspect, it is clear that it was never a cash grab. The filmmakers, Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin, obviously cared for this material and it comes through.
Area 407 opens with two sisters, Trish(Abigail Schrader), the younger bubblier sister, and Jessie(Samantha Lester), the annoyed but affable older sister. They are boarding a plane to return home to LA after a vacation to New York. The plane doesn’t arrive at it’s intended destination though, and bad things happen.The found footage is brought to us by Trish, who, being the precocious teen, must film everything. Through her camera we meet the sisters and the passengers that will be important to the remainder of the movie.
The first twenty minutes or so of Area 407 is really well done. The story takes its time introducing each character we are meant to care about and makes sure we do. Character development can be a bit of a lost art in horror movies, and especially those of the found footage variety. The camera work never feels too staged or forced during this time, and we are pulled into the dynamic of the small group of fellow travelers. Being a movie of this type, though, bad things must happen. The incident that causes the bad thing was filmed particularly well. Again, found footage has a nasty tendency to defy believability when composition and coverage is achieved so well when a supposed amateur is holding a camcorder during a crisis. The makers of Area 407 achieve believable stress and tension by allowing the camerawork to get a little sloppy in this sequence. The audio and the video that we do see is effective and conveys the horror of what is happening.
Once the initial crisis is over though, the found footage element begins to work against the film. What worked for that first horrific sequence becomes mundane and a little annoying as it never deviates from that style. Yes, everyone would be talking at the same time, yes the camera wouldn’t be stable, and yes chaos would be rampant. But after forty minutes of continual chaos it begins to grind on the audience. Movies thrive on realism, but they also thrive on structure. This film provides one very well, but lacks the other.
And then there is the monster. Once I realized what the monster was, I was a little frightened of how it would be handled. This could slip into SyFy movie of the week territory pretty quickly. Luckily, the filmmakers handle it with a strong sense of style and skill. Probably partly out of budget, the monster is in the shadows for majority of the movie. And, really, this is how it should always be. Everything is scarier when it is unknown. The known can be combated, the unknown cannot. That said, the reveal is still a little silly and dips into that dreaded CGI horror realm.
All of that said, Area 407 is actually a pretty solid effort from first time feature directors Dale Fabrigar and Everetty Wallin. While the story has noticeable lag points and the low budget shows itself during certain sequences, it still successfully creates a believable world where believable characters live. That sensibility is a virtue, especially in the horror genre where body count and gore can overtake actual storytelling pretty quickly. In that sense, Area 407 is probably worth the watch just to see two obviously skilled filmmakers begin their long career in the horror genre. Or at least I hope so.