51 (2011)

Beginning with an exclusive news report in front of Area 51, we’re told how the American government has opened their doors to the press, to dispel all rumours of extraterrestrial goings-on at the notorious base. The two golden ticket reporters are “Fact Zone” founder and general snooping bitch Claire (Vanessa Branch) and world famous newsreader Sam Whitaker (John Shea), accompanied by their two assistants.

The tour will be of the “infamous” Hanger 18 and led by Colonel Martin (Bruce Boxleitner). The press-people, however, are not shown everything in Area 51 and taken on a “mock tour” featuring experimental weapons and cloaking devices. Not that they know that, of course…

But disaster strikes! In a moment of massive inconvenience, long-term alien resident “Patient Zero” decides to break out! Having crash-landed his spaceship on Earth 25 years previously, he’s been holed up in Area 51 since. Today, however, he decides to break out and, being a “morpher”, his breakout is made much easier… by morphing into anyone he touches. Keen to create chaos, he also unlocks the cages of two of Area 51’s most notorious residents: Little Devil and Lady Death – two long-legged psychotic insect beasts.

Sound absurd yet? 51 is absolutely ridiculous, but is made with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and never takes itself too seriously. Stealing heavily from The Thing, Alien, Jurassic Park and even Doctor Who, the aliens are men-in-rubber-suits that look silly and raise more questions than they answer (how did two deranged insect beasts get to Earth? Did they pilot a spaceship with their gigantic pincers?).

One thing that seriously irritates in 51 is the “prologue” and “epilogue” – 51 is book ended by some shoddy “Sharon Solomon” reporter scenes, which seem rushed and tackily slapped together. It feels these frames were added as an afterthought to bolster time rather than add anything to the story, with terrible green-screen backgrounds and absolutely no interaction with any other characters. It feels unnecessarily cheap and pointless.

Acting wise, most of 51’s cast are competent enough to pull off Lucy Mukerjee’s uninspiring dialogue, and it’s great to see Bruce Boxleitner in a hefty role, along with John Shea (you know, Lex Luthor from The New Adventures of Superman). They both steal the show by adding some much needed gravitas to the otherwise lightly-comic tone. Even the soldiers stroll around, chatting like they’re at school, so the film greatly profits from Boxleitner and Shea’s involvement.

Character wise, 51 is s surprising rarity for a straight-to-DVD sci-fi horror, with actual back-stories and depth to each individual character. The dialogue is obvious and lacking any subtlety, but Mukerjee’s script at least delivers on character and pace, which rarely sags. 51 is actually very enjoyable.

Horror? Is there any? Although devoid of any real tension – due to the light and bouncy score – there’s a lot of blood for what is essentially a science fiction thriller; limbs are torn, blood sprays, eviscerated corpses litter corridors, aliens rip open necks – it’s a gory affair, and 51 benefits hugely from this. Thanks to director Jason Connery’s bloody-horror background (Pandemic & The Devil’s Tomb) you’re never short of a violent claret-splattering in 51!

Overall 51 is surprisingly fun, incredibly bloody, utterly ridiculous and ultimately a genuinely enjoyable and very entertaining sci-fi horror film.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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