Retro Review: APOLLO 18 (2011){0}

Apparently somebody, somewhere, at one point had a light bulb go off over their head while watching The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity or [REC], it doesn’t really matter. The new idea was this: hey, let’s place a “found footage” horror flick inside the capsule of an ill-fated trip to the moon! Not a terrible concept, truth be told, but one that was probably best left on the back burner until they  could concoct a way to make us actually give a crap about what would happen inside of a flick described as “The Blair Witch Project meets Apollo 13.” There’s nothing inherently terrible about the ideas behind the lame, clunky Apollo 18, but the execution is way off, the threat is virtually non-existent, and the visual gimmick starts out as novel but promptly grows exceedingly tiresome.

The premise here is that a super-secret three-man lunar mission took place in 1974, that something terrible happened to those three men, and that we’re now allowed to see the footage for ourselves. Again, a potentially cool idea. Lead actors Lloyd Owen and Warren Christie do the best they can with the hurried set-up and thoroughly uninteresting second act, but by the time we reach the second hour of realistic yet visually frustrating “fake ’70s Nasa footage,” we deserve a better payoff than what Apollo 18 delivers. Suffice to say that there are most assuredly some unpleasant life forms living on our moon, but when they’re ultimately revealed, the result is infinitely more silly than it is spooky.

Director Gonzalez Lopez-Gallego (he made a very cool thriller a few years back called King of the Hill) deserves some credit for making a gimmick flick that truly does look like 40-year-old archival footage, but to ask an audience to suffer this sort of stuff for over an hour is asking a lot. Doubly so when there’s very little in the way of scares, suspense, logic, or sense. A few early scenes on the moon manage to capture an unsettling sense of isolation, but that’s about it.Apollo 18 does a miserable job of capturing the loneliness of this mission, the obvious sense of claustrophobia that must occur, or any sort of cohesive sense of malice or mystery or suspense. This is a potentially cool “found footage” flick that is desperately in need of a lot more brains … or a lot more silliness.

It’s easy to dismiss a bad feature film as “something that’d play better as a short,” but such is most certainly the case where Apollo 18 is concerned. If it clocked in at around thirty minutes, it would still have the novelty of its premise and presentation, but it’d also be wonderfully bereft of all the dead air, aimless wandering, and redundant dialogue that all but ruin a potentially fun movie. Not helping is the fact that the “character development” is clumsy at best and that much of the narrative is just plain, old worthless wheel-spinning. Lifelong apologist for the oft-lamented “sci-fi horror” genre I may be, but there’s virtually nothing of value to be found in Apollo 18. I have no problem with gimmick movies, but the story and its presentation should always be more important than the gimmick itself. Or at least more interesting.