I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that missed its own point as badly as Apollo 18. The “found footage” horror genre, as limited as it is, functions as an equalizer between a movie’s characters and its audience. These home movies could very well be our own. They are minimally staged, shot without panache, and convey the same intimate moments we’d find in our own lives. They have a style that evokes the “real world,” which contrasts frighteningly – at least at their best – with the unsettling horrors that infect the footage in a film like Paranormal Activity or, to a different extent, Cloverfield. But whoever came up with the idea for Apollo 18 said to themselves, “Wait… Astronauts made what feel like home movies, so let’s make a film about that.” The result was a film that mixes the style of the “found footage” horror genre with the sci-fi genre, which is too grand to make the most of it. It doesn’t help that the movie is dull and silly to begin with.
I’m in an unusual position here, since the Blu-Ray box for Apollo 18 carries a quote from this very web site that reads as follows: “Terrifying! This film will shock you to your core.” Well, I did not write that review. I found Apollo 18 to be a lifeless, dull experience, much like the moon’s actual surface. When the action finally kicks in, and the nature of the horror is actually revealed, the concept proved fundamentally ridiculous. I’ve explained it to interested parties, and they’ve all laughed out loud at the very idea. Worse yet, when you think about the actual function of the “horrifying” menace, it’s confusing. It would be like if you made a killer bug movie where they can also change shape, and psychically possess you. Actually, it’s a lot like that.
The fundamental premise of the movie is that the United States made one last secret trip to the moon, in the supposedly scuttled Apollo 18. This conspiracy has at last been revealed thanks to hours of footage uploaded to www.lunartruth.com, with video taken by the astronauts on that very mission. We run into problems right there, since if this was an actual factual revelation – something the ad campaign claimed, although obviously erroneously – it would have been released as a tell-all documentary, and not a generic alien thriller.
Actually, that documentary approach would probably have been more effective. The dead serious “fact-finding” would have offset the film’s silly conceit and lack of characterization. When developing your protagonists you want to see them in situations and interactions that allow for audience identification, and floating around in space discussing vectors doesn’t qualify. Actually, a straightforward cinematic telling would have been best of all, since the confined quarters and lame camera angles don’t do what could have been a satisfactory potboiler justice. Giving director Gonzalo López-Gallego the opportunity to actually tell the story in a dramatic way, rather than forcing him to adhere to the horror flavor of the month, would have at least given Apollo 18 a sense of scale and wonder that’s sorely lacking in the finished product.
The Blu-Ray release of Apollo 18 is as good as could be desired. The film itself is supposed to be a poorly transferred documentary, and the finished product portrays that nicely in the thematically appropriate Academy ratio screen size. There’s also a ton of deleted scenes, including a fair number of alternate endings. The one they used was best, but that’s not saying terribly much. You can also listen to a fun and informative commentary track with the director and his editor, Patrick Lussier, himself the director of last year’s excellent Drive Angry.
Apollo 18 is feels like nothing more than an attempt to cash in on a trend, and it’s a textbook example of how not to do that. It captures the visual style of the “found footage” genre, but fails to capture its impact thanks to an inherently flawed idea. It’s a boring film, and a rather silly one, and I didn’t even know you could do both at the same time. Sadly, the novelty isn’t worth it. Apollo 18 crashes and burns.