“Apollo 18” must mark, what is it, the thirteen-millionth film that belongs in the not-at-all overpopulated (sarcasm) subgenre of the Found Footage Thriller? This category first caught the attention of mainstream moviegoers in the summer of 1999 with the tremendously popular (though slightly below adequate) hit, “The Blair Witch Project.” From the start, these low budget, high-concept, “self shot documentation” type films have proven more often than not to be quite the money-making crowd pleasers.
For the most part, even I (the supposedly stubborn film critic) have loved a fair share of Found Footage Thrillers. “Paranormal Activity” (along with its lesser appreciated sequel) knows how to milk its audience’s mounting anxiety for what it’s worth. Despite what other people have told me, I think “The Last Exorcism” is frightfully effectual as both a character study and a thrilling midnight PG-13 horror flick. And I think most of us can agree that “Cloverfield” is easily the best Godzilla film that does not technically involve Godzilla itself.
Now we have “Apollo 18,” a film with a simple proposal to anyone who views it: ‘What if “Paranormal Activity”…took place…on the MOON?’ In fact, I am almost willing to bet that those exact words were probably spoken in a studio office during the film’s business pitch. It is set in the year 1974 and all scheduled Apollo missions are being cancelled due to NASA’s lack of funding. Apollo 17, the final authorized mission into space, took place two years earlier and all subsequent operations had to be scrapped.
Or so we are led to believe…
Three equally nondescript young American astronauts (actors Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins) are appointed by the country’s defense system to embark on a top-secret lunar landing mission. In addition to their main purpose, which is to set up devices used to detect rival country missile attacks, the astronauts are also set to explore the south side of the moon, which has reportedly never been closely investigated by humankind. For their voyage, the crew is outfitted with (you guessed it) lots and lots of camera equipment to keep visual records of any discoveries they might make. And boy, are they in for a surprise when they finally arrive…
At first, nothing seems unusually suspicious and the expedition goes according to plan, but not until the cabin lights flicker forebodingly on and off one night does the situation slowly begin to reveal itself for what it is. The crew’s transmission to earth starts to frequently cut out, and is lost altogether at one point. The American flag they planted on the moon’s surface mysteriously disappears. Something makes its way into the skin of one of the astronauts somehow. And could somebody please explain what’s the deal with the dead Russian cosmonaut in the crater?
Fair enough. This sounds like a pretty interesting premise on paper. Unfortunately the film does not live up to its promise and is actually a pretty unremarkable monster movie. Not only is the monster’s (or is it monsters’?) identity obviously alluded to early on, but also the big reveal/attack is so ridiculous that I might have to give points back to the creatures in “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.” At least they were mischievous little buggers. It is one of those situations where the way you imagine the film in your head might be more satisfactory than the actual thing.
I can understand that the screenwriters were probably trying to stick closely to realism when writing lines of dialogue for the crewmen. Their lines consist of business-like statements and commands, while they occasionally exchange stories about getting hot jalapeno sauce on their unmentionables or whatever (which was maybe the only memorable line for me). The point is that they are written too blandly for me to become interested in their exploits. They are all interchangeable “blank slate” personalities as far as I can tell.
And don’t get me started on the ending, which is THE EXACT SAME AS EVERY OTHER FOUND FOOTAGE THRILLER OUT THERE. Seriously, is it that hard to come up with an ending that ties up all loose ends? One that has definite closure to the events we just watched? Maybe one where a character DOESN’T get absolutely screwed over in the end? If you have seen one of these types of endings, you can predict the fate of the astronauts immediately. I will give the movie this: it has the most oddly buoyant and upbeat music to an inauspicious ending I have ever heard (yes, that includes “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Buried”)
As far as movies go, I have seen much much worse than “Apollo 18.” But in comparison to the abundance of other films in the subgenre, this one stands out as one of the weaker and less exciting of the bunch. Its scares are mild, its pacing is inconsistent and the script has nothing significant or noteworthy to its name. In other words, this is a dim match in a deep, dark space crater.
And there's no heat in space.