Studio: Bayview Entertainment
Director: Alessio Liguori
Writer: Alessio Liguori, Giuliano Tomassacci
Producer: Alessio Liguori
Stars: Michela Bruni, Luca Guastini, Viola Graziosi, Damiano Martina, Ann Pierssens
While investigating rumors of UFO sightings near a secluded cabin, four friends become the prey of extraterrestrials.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, English-language horror films with Italian native casts and crews often captured a difficult to describe kitsch quality that came from lost in translation weirdness. Ranging anywhere from a singularly strange scene in a Lucio Fulci film to the head-to-toe oddity of “Troll 2,” there was something about the way Italian filmmakers misperceived broad appeal entertainment that ended up churning out likable curiosities that miraculously transcended their spotty production values.
“Report 51” occasionally grabs pea-sized bits of similar Italian-to-English charm. The man who pronounces the term as “close encounters uff da turd kind” and labeling the “found footage” as belonging to something called “The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs” come to mind as particularly giggle-worthy. But mostly, the thick accents and the curious filmmaking choices make “Report 51” confusingly bizarre, and not in a way likely to pave a path to cult classic status.
“Report 51” follows a seemingly simple enough plot of four friends at a cabin in the woods who run afoul of predatory extraterrestrials. Even though films including “Alien Abduction” (review here), “Unaware” (review here), and “V/H/S/2” (review here) have done the same thing, there is enough untapped potential in the UFO invasion concept that it is not yet sapped dry as a “found footage” premise. At least not in the way that lost in the woods and paranormal activity themes have been overdone.
Except filmmaker Alessio Liguori is strangely slavish to following the “found footage” formula to a fault. One such pointless conceit is the employ of intertitles like “Day 6 – 4:50am.” Text like that is useful when establishing a timeline or chronological relation between events is essential to the story. Here, the majority of the movie plays out across two days, and there is never a point where knowing what time it is has a bearing on anything. It’s one of those “everyone else does it, so I probably should too” ideas that is distracting and derivative without serving a real purpose.
Unnecessary overreliance on text cards goes back to the very beginning, as “Report 51” opens with eight consecutive screens of text that don’t even make sense. The first card simply identifies “University of Nebraska … Department of Anthropology – Aaron Lassac, Professor in Chief.” I guess the premise is that this is where the footage supposedly comes from? No, wait. The next card mentions a Dr. Daryl Slocombe and the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs. Okay, so the idea is that we are seeing classified footage that came from there. Got it. Oh, hold on. The fourth card says the audiovisual materials were found in the space probe Voyager II that launched in 1977. Just a minute. The footage shot by these four people traveled back in time 35+ years, made it into outer space, and was recovered by an unmanned NASA probe? I must not be following- damn, no time to figure it out, there are still four more cards to read…
Another eight cards of text end the film, too. Although at least one of those is a drawing.
Requiring a higher hurdle than most other obstacles in the fight against figuring out the story is hard to understand dialogue. On their own, the Italian-English pronunciations are already enough of a challenge to comprehend. When shrill yelling is funneled through the tinny audio filter of Skype-like video chat sessions, it becomes even more of a garbled mess. At other times, voices compete with the loud sound of boots trampling through snow or mouths pointing away from the camera.
Of what can be deciphered, it doesn’t seem to matter since the story beats do not add up to a fully sensible narrative. The actors are credited with writing additional dialogue, suggesting a script born from improvisation. That makes for some character behavior that is as puzzling as the words they are speaking.
In one scene, a woman abducted only a few hours earlier is suddenly returned to the group now nine months pregnant. One character immediately shouts, “she’s pregnant!” He is right, but it seems like an odd first conclusion to jump to instead of, “what’s wrong with her stomach?” or “what happened to her?”
To make sure we never see too much of the aliens until the finale, the characters have a bizarre habit of capturing all creature encounters on a cell phone, while the semi-pro camera in the other hand records the image on the phone’s screen. Huh? I understand that overreliance on modern technology has created a culture where people now experience life through their phones, but the cinema verite angle of recording a recording is completely ridiculous, even for a “found footage” movie.
Yet the wrong turn taking “Report 51” completely off course is that it misses the point of what could have made it unique. Anyone watching a “found footage” film themed around extraterrestrials is likely doing so because s/he wants to see activity of the alien kind, and not necessarily the paranormal variety. Yet as “Report 51” progresses, it transforms from an outer space-related horror into a “Blair Witch Project” meets “Paranormal Activity” fusion where its aliens are portrayed as feral banshees instead of as intelligent lifeforms.
The aliens actually look pretty cool, although they are just shrieking creatures that inexplicably have supernatural powers. The image of one alien transporting through a mirror is effectively eerie, but it has nothing to do with traditional concepts of extraterrestrial invaders. Not that “Report 51” should be prohibited from trying anything inventive, but when the rest of the movie features doppelgangers, levitation, random visions of one girl’s father, and an invisible force pulling at bedsheets, it starts feeling like the movie had cold feet with its alien abduction angle and threw in a kitchen sink of mismatched ideas to fill the boat.
In individual moments, there are times when “Report 51” works well. It is just that the movie has such a misguided idea about how to fit everything it wants to do into a cohesive story that it never makes a lick of logical sense.
Review Score: 45