“My main gripe with the film is that without the 'found footage' gimmick, Apollo 18 is just another below average horror-in-space story.”
Horror and Science Fiction
Starring - Warren Christie/Ben Anderson, Lloyd Owen/Nate and Ryan Robbins/John Grey
Director - Gonzalo López-Gallego
Writer - Brian Miller
PG-13 - some disturbing sequences and language
1 hr., 26 min.
Let me state right off, that in general, I am not a fan of “found footage” films. Found footage is a genre of film making, used extensively in horror films, in which a film is presented as raw film footage or unedited video recordings. This footage is usually presented as having been discovered left behind by lost or deceased characters. The proceedings onscreen are visualized from the point-of-view of a camera or cameras of one or several of the characters in the film. Unsteady camerawork and damaged or missing footage are also generally used to enhance to realism of the film.
The film credited with popularizing the “found footage” genre is The Blair Witch Project, which was made on a budget of between $500,000 and $750,000 and when released in 1999 grossed $248,639,099 worldwide. Oddly, it wasn’t until 2007 that the found footage genre really took off: Alone with Her, August Underground's Penance, Diary of the Dead, Exhibit A, Head Case, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Paranormal Activity, REC, Redacted and Welcome to the Jungle all were released that year. The financial success of Paranormal Activity, which grossed $193,355,800 worldwide on its meager $15,000 budget (although Paramount/DreamWorks acquired the U.S. rights for $350,000) has inspired two more sequels and many other found footage films since. The more fiscally or critically successful of these include: Cloverfield (2008), Monster (2008), Quarantine (2008), The Last Exorcism (2010), Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), The Troll Hunter (2010) Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) and Chronicle (2012).
The film Apollo 18 purports to be made from 80 hours of footage hidden by NASA of a secret Apollo 18 mission to the Moon in 1974. Commander Nathan Walker, Lieutenant Colonel John Grey and Captain Benjamin Anderson are told they are being sent to the Moon on a secret mission to place detectors there to alert the United States of any impending ICBM attacks from the USSR. Grey remains in orbit aboard the Freedom Command module, while Walker and Anderson land on the moon in the lunar module Liberty. The astronauts plant the detectors and then take some samples of moon rocks. On their second day, Walker and Anderson take a lunar rover to a cratered area and discover that they are not the first or only ones to visit this area of the Moon.
Like all found footage films, it requires the imagination of the viewer to pretend that what he or she is watching is actually real documented footage and not a traditional fictional drama. Unfortunately for me, the first “astronaut” seen in the footage in a pre-flight interview is actor Ryan Robbins as Lieutenant Colonel John Grey. I’m a fan of the SyFy Channel TV program Sanctuary on which the actor Ryan Robbins has played the character of Henry Foss for four seasons, so I was immediately taken out of the idea of Apollo 18 as being real by such a recognizable (by me) actor. Still, I tried to get into it, but the immediate appearance of another actor known to me from TV (Warren Christie who plays Cameron Hicks on SyFy’s Alphas) made it impossible to view Apollo 18 as anything more than just another sci-fi horror film.
All the visual tricks that are used to produce the feel of the footage being made on video from the era or shot on 16mm film are mostly a distraction from telling an interesting story. Technically, the reproduction of the NASA Apollo mission era’s technology, from the ship models to the space suits are excellent, but they are unfortunately marred by the distorted imagery to the point where they could have been done much more cheaply and it may not have been noticeable. Still, as a representation of realistic 1970’s era space travel, it is well done.
My main gripe with the film is that without the “found footage” gimmick, Apollo 18 is just another below average horror-in-space story. The three astronauts in the film are given very little time to develop as real characters, because the film makers are in such a rush to get them to the Moon, where they are to become embroiled in the horrors there. It is impossible to say how disappointing the “horrors” on the Moon are, without spoiling the entire film, but I certainly wasn’t even remotely frightened or even surprised by the big reveal. Only the final scene of the film contained any real feeling of tension or suspense and by then I just wasn’t involved enough with the film to care.
If you are a fan of found footage films, then give Apollo 18 a try. If you are like me and find found footage films to be a tired and overused gimmick, then go watch Alien (1979) or Moon (2009) again.
TECHNICAL: Acting – 7 Directing – 6 Cinematography – 7 Script – 6 Special effects – 8
VISCERAL: Visual – 8 Auditory – 7 Intellectual – 6 Emotional – 6 Involvement – 6
TOTAL RATING: 67