Saturday, April 21, 2012

Horror Film Review

Apollo 18 (2011):  Sci-fi horror flick!  Its tag line is "There's a reason we've never gone back to the moon."  You should know that in addition to being a proud horror geek, I'm also a huge sci-fi nerd.  So you'd think this movie with that tag line would be a perfect storm of cinematic coolness as was Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing.  You would be so very wrong.  Damn it. 

Films shot from the perspective of hand-held cameras (The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, etc.) have become trite from a technical standpoint.  The novelty wore off long ago.  Here, the filmmakers' approach was to cobble together "recently declassified NASA footage" into a mockumentary.  They went so far as to eschew opening titles and credits to perpetuate the fiction.  Despite the choice of filming style, Apollo 18 could have still rocked.  It didn't.  Why?  Let's find out.

After Apollo 17, the United States decided not to return to the moon, thus all follow up missions were scrubbed.  Then the Department of Defense unscrubbed the next mission in order to install observation equipment on the moon for the purpose of keeping an eye on the Soviets (remember, this was 1974).  The astronauts believed the DoD and so blasted off.  The three men are Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen), and John Grey (Ryan Robbins).  Ben and Nate take Liberty (the landing module) to the surface, plant a flag, and set up the DoD's gear.  Soon thereafter, they discover a deserted Soviet LM and then a dead cosmonaut who, for reasons unknown, removed his helmet.  Soon after that, their comm system starts failing, picking up odd shrieking sounds amid the static.  The flag disappears and Nate goes to investigate.  He freaks out, screaming that there's something in his suit with him.  A camera shows that "something" skitter across the inside of his faceplate.  Ben gets him back inside, finds a gash on his chest, and extracts what looks like a weird rock from the wound.  Nate smashes it with a hammer, which of course scatters the alien infection/creature everywhere, effectively sealing their fate.  They learn, too late, the DoD sent them to the moon as guinea pigs, to record what happens when man meets extraterrestrial.  Determined to escape, Liberty blasts off to reunite with John who's still in orbit.  Unfortunately, Nate's gone a bit nutty and decides it would be more fun to play bumper cars instead of docking.  The "footage" cuts out at this point. 

Rereading what I just wrote, the film sounds kind of exciting.  Well, that's just it.  Compress it into a paragraph, sure.  Stretch that into 86 minutes and you end up with one boring-ass movie.  Besides it moving slower than a constipated sloth, which is bad enough, Apollo 18 rehashes the plot from Alien instead of bothering with originality.  Even worse, the actors are wooden and unsympathetic.  I just didn't care what happened to them. 

Throughout film, I kept saying to myself that this could have been a groovy flick if they'd had the money to shoot it in the traditional manner.  I know that sounds strange when I've panned so many big-budget, Hollywood horror movies, but in this case, less is too little and more would have been just right. 


Acting:  We only see the three actors and mostly Christie and Owen.  They're definitely not Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon.  Sometimes opting for unknown actors backfires.  This is one of those times.
Story:  So many other ideas have not been made into sci-fi horror that I'm always astounded when a filmmaker repackages someone else's plot.  It's pure laziness.
Direction:  Uh, nope.  No direction here.
Production Values:  I will admit that despite the paltry $5 million budget, the moonscapes and lunar craft look pretty good.  Of course, most of the "footage" is grainy and black and white. 
Gore/FX:  None to speak of.  Damn it.
Scares:  One or two.  One of them is stupid and at least one other is quite good. 
The Ending:  As you can imagine, there's no happy, Apollo 13 ending here.  That the ending didn't bother me in the least should be a clue as to how much I liked it.
The Verdict:  Should you see Apollo 18?  If you have an hour and a half to kill, the cable and internet are down, your car's in the shop, and all of your books have been stolen, then sure, give it a go.  Otherwise, just watch Alien again.

My Rating:  2 out of 5

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