The concept of a “found footage” horror film set on the moon is fantastic. There are a great many ways that this could work, and work well. Unfortunately, Apollo 18 chooses to go the route of what feels like a Discovery Channel re-enactment of a space mission and fails to create any suspense whatsoever. Houston, we have a problem.
According to the opening text, footage of an off the books mission to the moon that took place in 1974 was found and what we see is that footage edited together. We learn that three American astronauts, Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Ryan Robbins), and Captain Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) were sent out on a secret mission by the Department of Defense to place detectors on the moon to help give the United States advanced warnings about Russian missile launches. When they arrive, Walker and Anderson go down to the moon in the lunar module, Liberty; Grey stays behind in Freedom, the command module.
As soon as they touch down Walker and Anderson begin placing the warning devices around their landing area, while also placing random cameras in places to give us the ability to see things from various angles. The two astronauts, finished for the day, head back into Liberty in order to catch some shut-eye. It doesn’t take long however, for things to start going wrong from that point on – at least for the astronauts involved, as things started going wrong for the movie itself right from the very start.
The main problem with Apollo 18 is that it’s hard to get invested in the story the way one needs to be in order for this type of psychological horror film to work. A film like this requires the viewer to be in a state of suspense so that when the scares come they catch you off-guard, even if they may be somewhat expected. Apollo 18 never gets to that point even once, and within the first half an hour it already feels as though the movie is plodding along, unsure of what it’s trying to do.
The threat that these two astronauts are facing is unknown to the viewer throughout most of the film, sans a few shaking rocks on the moon’s surface from time to time. This would usually be seen as a good thing in a scary movie, however, the pacing of the film feels so drawn out that even when things do begin to get revealed it all feels anticlimactic and not worth the time invested to get to it.
Of course, having characters that are so one-dimensional and boring to watch doesn’t help the movie on any level. Walker and Grey could be called Guy One and Guy Two and we’d have just as much emotional connection to them as we do here. Anderson could pretty much be called Guy Three, except he’s got a wife and son who we hear on a recording he’s brought with him on the mission which gives him the most character depth out of any of them. This was blatantly done to evoke sympathy from the audience, but it’s so forced – especially in the final act – that it becomes groan worthy instead of having any sort of emotional impact.
Another problem with Apollo 18 is that the footage is cut together extremely rough. The actual look of it works well for the time period, but the edits are so fast and constant that it’s hard to imagine that they turned the camera on and off as many times as a jump cut would indicate, especially when the following shots are from the same camera/perspective. The entire basis behind recording it all in general is rather wonky. Things are hinted at throughout as to why the astronauts are recording everything (right down to the usual ‘found footage’ line of, “Keep recording, we need to document this!”), but when it all comes down to it, the random shots that are taken in this small area never serve any real purpose besides the fact that the audience needs to have some way to see what’s going on.
If there’s a bright spot to be seen anywhere in the movie it’s in the set design and production value. The shots on the moon feel as though they could have been taken on the moon, and the atmosphere does seem desolate and eerie. Unfortunately, it all goes to waste as the story and characters within it never land anywhere close in terms of the same quality.
Apollo 18 is a movie that had a great concept but failed to deliver on any level. This is the type of movie that would benefit from a [Rec] type vibe, only with aliens instead of infected people. Instead it chose to build the tension so slowly that the film is over before a scare is to be had.
The video is presented in 1080p High Definition and it looks good throughout. The film is shot to look as though it was done in the ‘70s, so certain grainy elements and random screen sizes are to be expected. It looks good overall, as the video quality is definitely one of the best parts of the film. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and sounds solid throughout as well.
The special features are about as in-depth as you’d expect for a film of this caliber, mainly consisting of deleted and alternate scenes.
There’s an Audio Commentary with Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego & Editor Patrick Lussier for those interested in learning about the filming of Apollo 18.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes – There are twenty minutes worth of scenes here, none of which would make the movie more entertaining and none that are overly entertaining themselves.
Alternate Endings – There are four alternate endings here, all about a minute to two minutes in length, and none that change the outcome of the film. One of the endings does however, show how crazy the movie could have been with the more violent [Rec] type vibe I spoke about above.
In the end Apollo 18 is a missed opportunity. When I’d first heard about the idea for the film I was excited at the possibilities and it turns out all the excitement was for naught. Apollo 18 is one small step backwards for horror fans, and one giant leap backwards for ‘found footage’ films.
Dimension Films & Timur Bekmambetov Present Apollo 18. Directed by: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego. Written by: Brian Miller. Starring: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins. Running time: 86 minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: December 27, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Apollo 18, horror, Moon