REVIEW: Slow, Ridiculous Apollo 18 is Found Footage Horror Done Wrong

Movieline Score: 3

When they work, found footage films are testaments to the power of a limited perspective. Features like The Blair Witch Project, REC and Cloverfield get juice out of the fact that we're not able to see or know more than the characters on screen. They use a gloss of the intentionally clumsy -- jittery camerawork, lower quality footage, mundane dialogue -- to allow a story to invade from an unexpected angle. They require cleverness in concept and, more importantly, in construction, particularly when the found footage flick in question is of the horror genre, as so many of them are; there's no easier way to lose your audience than to make them wonder why, when such frightening things are allegedly happening, your characters are still bothering to roll tape. On the plus side, they're a way to hide your monster (or witch, or demon, or alien) from view for longer than is usually allowed a more standard film -- and the monster we imagine is usually much scarier than the one we finally see on screen.

That's definitely the case for Apollo 18, a sci-fi/horror attempt directed by Spaniard Gonzalo López-Gallego in his English-language debut that's meticulous in its "found" visual details, minorly smart in concept, painfully slow to actually watch and so ridiculous in its big reveal that it almost has to be seen to be believed. It claims to be assembled from footage of a classified final trip to the moon that took place in 1974, hours of which were allegedly uploaded to a website called lunartruth.org. Three astronauts are sent on this mission -- John Grey (Ryan Robbins), whose role is to man the command module while it's in lunar orbit, and Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) and Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), who get to go down to the surface of the moon and spend a few days setting up what they've been told are devices to detect Soviet missiles.

The film makes expansive use of the many cameras trained on this trio on their trip -- the cameras mounted inside their respective modules, the motion-sensor cameras outside, the cameras on the lunar vehicle -- switching in quality and look in way that's actually very impressive, though the 16mm cameras the astronauts carry to document what's happening bear the majority of the narrative burden. To describe what unfolds as a slow burn is to be awfully generous. While John waits, circling, above, Ben and Nate notice strange sounds outside their module as they try to sleep. Something's interfering with their communication signals; something's messing with their equipment outside. They find a Soviet spaceship and a dead cosmonaut in the film's best and only genuinely tense sequence, involving navigating with a flash in the dark of an impact crater. But the extraterrestrials are as sluggish in their menace as the astronauts are in believing there's any threat to their precarious continued existence, until the latter finish up and try to leave, and can't.

Which brings us to the aliens. If you're interested in keeping their nature a mystery, please skip the end of this review, because there are spoilers ahead.

Okay?

Okay. The aliens are rocks. They are moon rocks that grow crab-like legs and scuttle around and get inside people's spacesuits and give them bloodshot eyes and space madness. After all that drudging buildup, all the mysterious tracks that obviously aren't human, the blurry shots of the lunar landscape with one small flicker of movement in the corner, the smashed Soviet space helmet, the endless check-ins with the orbiting module as it goes in and out of comm range, that the payoff is something so laughable is infuriating -- even more so than the realization that the film's finale makes the survival of any of the footage we're supposedly watching pretty much impossible. The aliens are facehugger knockoffs with all the frightening aspects excised. They're killer paperweights.

Apollo 18 ends with an ominous note about the hundreds of pounds of moon rock collected over the different lunar missions, some gifted to different foreign heads of state. It's doubtless intended to raise the specter of a sequel about invasion or infection, but instead it brings to mind the image of dozens of world leaders staring in bemusement at display cases, inside of which their lunar souvenirs have sprouted legs and started rattling around, hoping to causing mischief.



Comments

  • richard miller says:

    you'll like this film better check it out it's free.....http://youtu.be/-BvAuaaLewo

  • Tommy Marx says:

    Three comments:
    1. Cloverfield is not a very good example of a film that works. It wasn't as horrible as District X, where we suddenly get to see aliens in the documentary that not only would not have been filmed but have convenient subtitles, but it more than once reminds us that the "captured" film is a cheat. Either we see things we never could have possibly seen, or the photographer films things no one in his right mind would have filmed. Then again, Cloverfield was populated by "characters" that exist only because the movie needs them to exist.
    2. Thanks for the spoiler alert. I don't know if that's a major spoiler, since I can't even remember seeing a commercial for this crap, but it is appreciated.
    3. In my mind, there is a moon rock trying to break free from a plastic trophy case because of you. It's like the old joke, "How do you escape the zombies?" The answer, of course, is to walk faster.
    3.1 I love that you get as annoyed as I do by major lapses of logic. I don't mind the occasional stretch, but sometimes it seems like Rob Lowe encapsulated the entire movie industry when he said something along the lines of adding a line where a character is grateful that scientists found a way for people to smoke in space.

  • Kris the Klingon says:

    How does one spoil the spoiled? Alien killer rocks. There was an episode of the old OUTER LIMITS which had such rocks. Took over people too--turning them grey and wacky-looking. Hard rockers,
    in glorious black-and-white.
    Swell review, though. Thanks.

  • Gordon says:

    This movie was actually a very interesting movie. Granted it had the sort of Paranormal and Blair-Witch feel the, fact that it was set on the moon and that it deals with the real conspiracy of the Apollo 18 mission (Minus the Alien Rocks) makes it something worth watching. Honestly it comes down to your taste in Horror Movies. If you wanted blood, guts, and Alien probbing don't see it. However if you want a sci-fi thriller with a factual side then by all means, please do.

  • Anonymous says:

    Completely misdirected about the recovery of the footage, it had been transmitted all the while over the course of the mission back to base on earth. Wouldn't have been financed to such a degree for visual observation to allow it to be handled by those astronauts who'd be informed they wouldn't be returning. Also, no intention for a fictionalized sequel of infection or invasion is implied, just in the imagination of those who have yet to recognize the literal significance of the film. The typical movie review for not such an appropriate film.

  • MA says:

    Great review -- I'll be skipping that one. Thanks also for the spoiler alert.
    Killer rocks can be had here, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6tStZaVHJc

  • casting couch says:

    The mention of "space madness" made me hungry for chicken pot pie, chocolate-covered raisins and glazed ham.

  • Julie says:

    I'm bummed that Apollo 18's been receiving such negative reviews. I was hoping that it would be a fun thriller, but I think I'll probably skip from watching this in the theater.

  • alan says:

    Interesting concept by the writers/producers/director. The point of the movie was that our government is once again using people and trivializing their worth and making them little more than disposable commodities all under the guise of "national security." So with "classified" film footage they spun a tale of suspense/horror for 90 minutes for entertainments sake. We get the same thing from congess every day at a cost that is much more than a movie ticket.

  • Magic says:

    I saw this movie last night. It has no lapses in logic, because it has no logic to start with. And you're totally right on with Cloverfield. That movie is an extra-long episode of "The OC" with a monster showing up in the background every so often.

  • Oscar BLanco says:

    My opinion?
    Blair witch goes to the moon. Only thing missing on the screaming crying astronaut was the running snot from his nose… bleah!

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