Apollo 18 (2011)
Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego
A good 95% of all horror films ever made make use of a powerful fear practically written into our DNA: that of the unknown. What lurks in a nearby shadow that appears to grow and shrink as we stare with unflinching eyes. The unsettling quiet that comes with a seemingly forbidden place. Luckily, what also defines us at human beings is the ability to stare into the black and leap forward regardless of the risks. We have to know … even though every fiber of our being screams to turn away. I believe it is with these thoughts in mind that the makers of Apollo 18 set out to create a film they thought would be a "no brainer". When you think about the most forbidden of places with dark corners and dangers able to claim your life in an instant, as well as a quiet so empty it would chill you to the bone, what could be more terrifying than the moon?!? Apollo 18 sets out to answer that question with found footage, presumably recovered from the very FACE OF THE MOON ITSELF!! That's so metal.
Family man Ben Anderson (Christie) and Nate Walker (Owen) team with a third astronaut for a secret mission to the moon at the tail end of the "Space Race" era. All they've been told is they are to plant cameras and listening devices on the surface of the moon and what their cover stories are, assuring they do not get the "Hero" status they would have certainly liked. Hell … you get to walk on the moon though! Small consolation prize. After some "getting to know you" scenes filled with witty astronaut banter and old home movie-esque abnormalities in the film, Anderson and Walker depart from the main ship in their Lunar Lander and set out to complete the task at hand. Wackiness ensues.
As we've seen in the trailers, there is SOMETHING on the moon, and it is none too friendly. With cameras mounted everywhere the astronauts go, and on the astronauts themselves, we are meant to have a front-row view of the action as it unfolds. The two-man crew find what remains of a Russian landing party, complete with one damaged helmet suggesting they haven't crawled into a crater to drink vodka and do that odd kicking dance all Russians do. Soon after this moment all bets are off. You'll hear strange shrieking over the Lander's communications, witness strange anomalies, and watch one of the crewmen be slowly taken over by some otherworldly force. Since this is found footage, some helpful government type has edited all the bits together and even slowed down key moments so you don't miss a twitch. "See that creepy thing there?" the replay demands. Back…and to the left. Baaaack…and to the left. Super slow-mo in the middle of a movie is as jarring and tedious as it sounds.
So you've got two astronauts on the moon trying to complete their jobs and find out what the hell is going on around them before it can claim their lives. 88 minutes roll by with bumps in the night, unexplained circumstances, and two guys going, "What was that??!!" Mr. Anderson, it was nothing … because NOTHING HAPPENS for 80% of the runtime. It is clear that whoever crafted this film was a big fan of Paranormal Activity and has attempted to recreate that tension on the moon with tiny reveals and people yelling in the dark. However, Apollo 18 never grabs you in that way, and without a strong connection to our astronaut buddies either, we are left cold (on the moon … get it?) This is a film that never takes off and runs as it should have. Instead, it retains a sort of indie film aesthetic with quiet contemplation in place of explosive Armageddon level action. Even when there is a skirmish of some sort, it doesn't build any sort of energy. The viewer is left flat, wondering what the hell is on the moon and if we'll ever actually get to SEE these things. We know from experience the last 20 minutes of a film can sometimes make up for the rest of the drudgery, but that potentially epic moment falls flat when the adversary is revealed with a soundless thud (because they are … on the moon … get it?!) What's revealed is slightly fiercer than an ass-kicking smoke monster but absolutely less terrifying than a pack of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Huge disappointment.
With no tension built, no momentum achieved, no love for our potential victims to be had, and very little terror to be found anywhere, save for one forced jump scare, you are left with a film you would skip past on basic cable in favor of watching Iron Man for the 100th time. I barely even believed they were on the moon, much less in mortal danger. This is no fun at all.
Sadly, Apollo 18 is another pretty film that fails on all levels but pacing. Strangely, while there was plenty of snickering and joking with suggestions that our heroes would find Bigfoot footprints around the Lunar Lander, the movie never dragged so badly that I wanted to mock end my life, perhaps by water boarding myself with an extra large diet soda. Maybe the joking saved us, but now we'll never know. Suffice to say, you'll find plenty of comedy in this film, but none of it was in the script.
1 out of 5