Sunday, September 4, 2011
This style has been applied to the various other types of horror films, from monsters (Cloverfield) to zombies (Diary of the Dead, [REC]). Apollo 18 is the first of these films to set the genre into the least likely of places: outer space. Hopefully, this film won't be the last of its kind, because the setting and premise could produce a solid horror film one day. Unfortunately, Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego's Apollo 18 is not that movie. The film starts out by giving everyone the very basic description of the end of NASA's space program: we had our last flight to the moon with Apollo 17...or did we? As far as this movie goes, no we didn't. Three astronauts are selected to leave their families and go to the moon, but it's top secret. No one will ever know what they were doing up there, until somehow a rogue website called LunarTruth.com (it's real, but just an advertisement for the movie) got the 80 hours of footage. As you can see, the film is already stretching the suspension of disbelief. When the astronauts get to the moon, Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) and Nathan Thomas (Lloyd Owen) are the ones to land. The goal is to set up cameras on the moon's surface to spy on potential Russian trips. Soon they discover that everything is not as it seems, and the "real reason" we never returned to the moon is revealed. Now the two have to survive and somehow get home.
Apollo 18 may go down as one of the worst examples of how to make a found footage film. For a subgenre that already suffers because of the limited shots it can create, this particular movie is just very lazy in almost every aspect. It feels thrown together, without any precision or care going into the writing, acting and the way it was shot. There are very few positives for this film at all. As mentioned earlier, that's a shame because the premise itself could have opened itself up for an atmospheric and haunting film. Instead, the audience gets this. There are some, if very few, positives. The editing by Patrick Lussier should be commended. The footage is appropriately grainy and damaged, similar to how the films in Grindhouse was presented.
Considering this is supposed to be footage captured from the moon in the 1970s, that makes perfect sense. It does hurt visibility and the ability to make out what's going on at times, but that comes with the territory of films with shaky camerawork. The shaky camerawork, however, is especially bad in this case. A number of times in this film there is almost a motion blur because of the camera constantly moving about. It makes things hard to see and on top of that, removes any suspense the movie was attempting to build. It's to be expected with a film like this, but that doesn't mean it's any less jarring when everything starts shaking in the middle of a scene because someone has to start running with the camera. Another problem plaguing this film is its pacing. It may sound like a cliche to say so, but Apollo 18 moves with the speed of an iceberg.
The film takes a long time to get going (at least it felt like a long time), and at 88 minutes long, a director absolutely cannot do that with his or her film. It's not character development to watch two men sit in a spaceship talking about nothing or go out to set up cameras and collect moon rocks. This movie's run time doesn't give it the luxury of moving slowly but it does so anyway. As a result, when the climax should kick in, the film abruptly ends. The film is, to be blunt, dull. Even the actors in the film seem like they're bored three-fourths of the time. A lot of the dialogue is almost monotone, and there is usually more of a lack of acting than there is a performance. Christie is the only one that gives any effort, and that's really only at the end of the film. Only when the action starts to pick up does the audience see any kind of emotion, and then it is usually just screaming. This movie also lacks any sort of scares, which is the film's primary objective.
It's usually appropriate for a horror film to provide something for the audience to react to. The movie would rather rely on jump scares or loud noises. A false scare seen in the trailer is the kind of moment you can expect regularly. When the movie isn't being dull, it's being loud. In dramatic moments, lines are shouted at one another. When there are quiet moments, there is screeching on the communication frequency or loud thumps on the ship's wall. All future horror filmmakers should know that these are moments of terror; they are moments of annoyance. There are a few other smaller problems as well. The "reason we never went back to the moon" is laughable and further damages any attempts to thrill the audience. There is also one glaring plot hole after the end of the movie that all but shatters any attempt to suspend your disbelief.
Obviously to name it would be spoiling the movie, so I'll let you figure it out. It's not just a singular error, but one big plot hole and several smaller ones that appear after. As mentioned previously, it's a shame Apollo 18 couldn't be better. Horror films set in space can be very effective because of the location itself. The protagonist is usually all alone with whatever the menace is coming after them. The tagline for Alien told us that in space, no one can hear us scream. But when watching Apollo 18, all you'll want to do is yawn.