Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Review : Apollo 18 (2011)



Brian Miller (screenplay), Cory Goodman
Decades-old found footage from NASA's abandoned Apollo 18 mission, where two American astronauts were sent on a secret expedition, reveals the reason the U.S. has never returned to the moon...

This is gonna be a hard film to review, as its been a few days since I viewed it and I'm still not sure how I feel about it, as an entire film. There are so many things about the movie I adored, and some things that threaten to sink it completely, as a whole piece. I'll try and break it down as best I can. First the good stuff....

APOLLO 18 follows the 'found footage' road so regularly travelled these days, that its becoming passe. At the same time, I ENJOY the sub-genre when its done well. REC, REC 2, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and THE TUNNEL, all made fine use of its techniques, and are widely regarding as effective genre pieces. In fact, I find BLAIR WITCH to be a damned frightening film. There was a chance that APOLLO 18 could join the club in style. It's got a lot going for it...

First of all, its set on the goddamn moon, and you cant get any more isolated and alien than that, outside full-on 'fantasy', (except for perhaps the deep caverns of the Earth, a-la THE DESCENT). It recalls the dread and utter loneliness of space, that helped Ridley Scott's, 'ALIEN,' horrify us all, so many years ago. The film makes great use of the setting, and emanates a feeling of total hopelessness from the moment things kick off. Its easy to place yourself in the position of the three astronauts the film follows, and much like the BLAIR WITCH, you do tend to feel like your right there with them, questioning yourself as to what you would feel, what you would do. Its strong stuff, especially for anyone, (like myself), who has a fascination with Outer Space and our Universe.

Is this film simply BLAIR WITCH in space? Its a valid question, and of course there are parallels to be found, but the setting, and the variety of camera techniques really help it stand out from the rest of the crowd.  The footage is dated to look like it took place is the late 1960's, and its clear that the production values are very high. It genuinely looks and feels like your watching a moon-landing. The many camera-views and film stocks, including in-craft static camera's, moon-buggie attachments and helmet-cams, make for a visually entrancing film, if your a fan of the handheld/documentary approach. If not, this will be every bit as headache-inducing as its predecessors, perhaps more so as we're often dealing with zero-gravity scenes. Also adding to the sense of reality is the sound design, which is off the charts for any space-heads out there. Its very easy to imagine this whole thing as actually having occurred.

The three actors, who manfully carry the entire movie, are all very believable in their roles. All three have the 'all-American hero' vibe down to a fine art, yet all have their own reactions to the events that take place that help maintain a sense of individuality. The film's pace hinders character development a little, as we have hardly ten minutes with these guys before they're off into the cosmos. From there on in, theres little room for character nuance as its all business; first technical jargon, then apprehension, then outright terror. Still, as I mentioned, the authentic documentary styling and the identifiable setting do make it very easy to relate to their plight as the Cosmo-shit hits the fan.

There are some truly unnerving scenes in APOLLO 18, always utilising the setting for maximum atmosphere and tension. The film builds and builds as the astronauts learn more and more about what is out there on the barren surface of the moon. And its here that the problems begin...

I won't give away the nature of the threat that these guys are facing on the lunar surface, but it somehow feels very underwhelming when all is said and done. It shouldn't, as the build up to the true reveal is pretty terrifying. Theres a whole slew of seriously creepy moments as the men grow increasingly desperate, realizing that they may have been sent to the moon for nefarious reasons. That knowledge in itself sends chills down the spine. Along with that, the initial sightings of the threat that's out there are creepy as hell, especially if your a little apprehensive of certain creatures that exist on our planet. But when the full reveal comes, it all somehow falls apart. It's not like we see much of them, (we only see them perhaps five or so times), but there's an aspect of their nature that I just could not get on board with, for a film that otherwise revels in realism. The short sharp glimpses all have the viewer on edge, and the initial form of the creature is horrifying, but the manner in which the threat is handled in its other form just leaves the whole thing feeling somehow stale. Its very hard to explain without giving the game away.

BLAIR WITCH showed us nothing, and for my money, that was its greatest strength, (same with THE TUNNEL). REC and its sequel showed everything, and for those films it worked brilliantly, but APOLLO 18's location, atmosphere and brilliant build of tension all point toward the power of an unseen enemy. The human conflict is tense enough on its own without having to see the outside threat. Had these creatures been kept in the dark, (of the moon), I would have rated this film as a classic of the sub-genre. Put it this way, try and imagine if we'd witnessed the Blair Witch herself. Imagine how much it would affect the sense of mystery, and the fear of the unknown...

That's the problem with APOLLO 18, it seems clear the studio had a hand in its creative choices. There's no dialogue that hints towards seeing the enemy, and its most likely an indication of the Studio's conformity that they had to show the creatures. Stephen Spielberg's ridiculous fucking-up of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY's original ending showed the same lack of confidence in the directors vision. Hollywood....if you hire someone for their creative prowess, LET THEM DO WHAT YOU HIRED THEM FOR. Had this been an indie film, these problems would most likely not exist. Its a damn shame.

If your into Sci-Horror and/or 'found footage' films, APOLLO 18 is probably going to be worth your time, to an extent. There is a lot to love, and overall its an effective and frightening movie. It could have been a classic. It's all in place and it's brilliantly directed, which makes it all the more sad that a film that hits the mark in atmosphere, tension, location and realism has to take the easy way out and lacks faith in the audience. When I think of the Blair Witch, out there in the dark woods of Burketsville, my mind conjures bone-freezing horrors, when I think of APOLLO 18's beings, my imagination never comes into play. Now I don't know if this is a case of studio intervention, but I'd be very surprised if its not. Next time, trust your director, and trust the audiences. Amazingly, we have imaginations all of our own, and we know how to use them.

I'm completely torn at the moment on APOLLO 18. I may come to appreciate it more in time, but for now, I'm as equally impressed by its finesse as I am disappointed by its failures. I say give it a look, but be cautious, for while you may find yourself believing for the first hour that your watching greatness, the finale may just deflate your trip entirely.

7 Spacemen out of 10


  1. I really want to check out this movie because I'm hearing a split between other people as well. They don't know if they liked or disliked it. I wanted to check it out for a while so I really need to get on that asap.

    One thing I was looking forward to was the actors performances, so it's awesome to know that they did great.

  2. I feel the same, I don't know if I like it or not. I like the story but when you actually see the "creatures" I was pissed. It just doesn't seem logical how they survive on the moon.