Starring Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins
Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
I ended up being one of the lucky ones who managed to miss out on APOLLO 18 in theaters so when the Blu-Ray arrived on my doorstep I wasn’t exactly feeling all that psyched about checking it out. But since I also had a morbid curiosity about the flick after hearing all the horrendous reviews earlier this year, I figured I had to see just what all the hub-bub was about surrounding APOLLO 18. Turns out- not a whole lot but it’s certainly not the travesty a lot of other reviewers had painted the film out to be back in September.
APOLLO 18 is another entry in the growing “found footage” genre which has been popularized in recent years due to the success of the blockbuster PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films. But instead of rehashing eerie domestic terror, APOLLO 18 manages to do something a little bit different and takes us into outer space, playing around with history and horror to manufacture a slightly different take on the game of fabricated realism.
We find out at the beginning of APOLLO 18 that back in 1974, the Department of Defense ordered a secret launch of a shuttle that shares its name with the title of this film that was commanded by two astronauts, Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) and Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen) with a third astronaut John Grey (Ryan Robbins) left behind to monitor their progress on from their orbiting ship. Sent to the moon to retrieve additional rock samples and set up a first warning system, the duo quickly discovers there’s more to their mission than they originally understood. Finding evidence of Russian exploration gone horribly awry while stumbling across cosmonaut corpses, Anderson and Walker come to realize they might not be alone, with alien life gradually revealing itself as the pair endures devastating bouts of panic and paranoia, all while combating a mysterious infection and the DOD who are willing to give up the lives of these men for ‘the greater good.’
How we get the footage featured in APOLLO 18 is that it’s presented as a loosely edited effort from a clandestine conspiracy group, culled from 84 hours of footage recorded by the astronauts and NASA, with the concept being to submit incontrovertible evidence of U.S. Government deception, finally revealing that Apollo 17 wasn’t the last trip to the moon as previously believed and to show us just why we’ve never been back.
On the surface, The essentials of APOLLO 18 are quite appealing, with Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego juggling various film and video stocks to recreate the grainy period look, making the feature resemble a hastily assembled observance of doom. Admittedly, the visual scheme of APOLLO 18 is convincing for the first hour, carefully orchestrated by the director who is able to monitor plausible camera angles and motivated confessions, keeping the picture nicely contained to lunar modules and landscapes. We get a credible appearance for the most part in APOLLO 18 with Lopez-Gallego really only stumbling during the film’s third act where the horror mechanics assume control of the story and the filmmaker then trades in realism for broad suspense. Frankly, APOLLO 18 might have worked better had the director sustained his painstaking recreation all the way to the end but ends up being his movie’s own worst enemy by the time the credits begin to roll- he starts off with a “less is more” attitude that crumbles away once the climax hits, killing any sort of mood or tension Lopez-Gallego establishes early on.
Although it feels a lot like a procedural drama for a majority of the film, APOLLO 18 is at heart a horror picture, soon tending to matters of shock and spook after a dry opening act. We also get some cheap scares that emerge from piercing sonic jolts and blurry images of arachnid alien life, but with little explanation for anything onscreen, APOLLO 18 ends up playing out more like a haunted house movie than the epic sci-fi horror story it wants to be, with jumps and a few gross-outs to distract from a movie that’s basically about two men frantically conversing inside of a room the size of a broom closet.
Sure, APOLLO 18 contains intriguing elements and a passable technical effort, but it’s never a sustained piece of terror. The idea seems better suited for a faux documentary by a fictional conspiracy organization or something, not what we get here- a halfhearted scare machine that never quite connects with audiences. On top of all that, we also get a lot of logic flaws that I won’t get into since they are a bit spoilerish in nature but suffice to say, once you see it, you’ll know what I mean.
While I wouldn’t put it on my “Worst Of” list for 2011, APOLLO 18 is definitely not a memorable affair either and will no doubt leave a lot of fans out in the cold. It pretty much just falls right in the middle of the spectrum- it didn’t anger me but I didn’t fall in love with it either. While I dug a lot of the early tension and atmosphere, by the end APOLLO 18 ends up more tedious than terrifying and takes its sweet time to unearth what ends up being a rather mediocre mystery. With a setting just ripe with possibilities, APOLLO 18 never fully takes advantage of the isolation and fear that comes with traveling in space which is truly a shame.
For Blu-Ray extras, we get a commentary track on APOLLO 18 featuring director Lopez-Gallego and famed editor Patrick Lussier which ends up being far more interesting than the movie as a whole actually. There are some deleted scenes that don’t bring too much to the table (they rarely do anyway) and some alternate endings as well that again, didn’t do a whole lot to enhance APOLLO 18 so I can see why they went with the ending they went with. The audio and visual goes without saying here- APOLLO 18 does look and sound great, with the blackness of space surrounding the characters looking strong and clean throughout.
The bottom line is that for those of you curious out there, I’d say APOLLO 18 is worth a rental at the most. Hardened genre fans will find little to like here but more forgiving fans should be able to look past a faulty third act and a whole lot of squandered potential in the film. APOLLO 18 is just alright and if you have 87 minutes to kill, it might be worth it. Just keep your expectations in check.
2.5 out of 5