A film review by Craig J. Koban September 7, 2011
2011, PG-13, 88mins.
2011, PG-13, 88mins.
Lloyd Owen: Nate Walker / Warren Christie: Ben Anderson
Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego / Written by Brian Miller
You are not imagining things.
This film is called APOLLO 18 and, yes, the very last
Apollo manned moon-landing mission was number 17 way back in 1972.
Several more missions were conceived in the late 60’s and early
70’s to go beyond Apollo 17, but NASA scrapped the plans due to
18’s premise is a very nifty one: it details how NASA kick-started a once cancelled Apollo 18 mission
and launched it in
December of 1974, but under the veil of massive secrecy for the purposes
of national security. Unfortunately,
this mission was doomed and the vessels and men aboard never returned to Earth, which is really why there have been no other manned
missions to our nearest satellite body. The film itself is apparently presented as a loosely edited
together documentary based on the 84 hours of astronaut shot footage while
they were on their fatal mission that the government has been guarding
from the public for years. The
clandestine group behind the doc footage has released it in hopes of
letting the public know of a massive governmental conspiracy to cover up
what happened to NASA’s astronauts, thus showing that “budgetary
restraints” were not the real reason behind Americans never returning to
course, all of this is a load of shit.
18 – like the THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and, most recently, PARANORMAL
ACTIVITY before it – is another in a very long list of
faux-documentary/faux-found-footage horror films that aspires to tap into
the sort of voyeuristic and reality-based shock and awe scares that have
typified the genre for the last decade-plus.
Whereas other past examples have drummed up an escalating sense of
dread and unease based in horror on a more Earthbound plane, APOLLO 18 at
least does something fresh and novel by taking the concept into outer space
while, at the same time, joyously re-imagining history and re-igniting
conspiracy theorists’ own zealot-like search for the hidden truth.
As an example of cinematic fakery, APOLLO 18 looks as eerily real
with its space travel and moon landing footage as what many watched
decades ago on TV. I guess
that what the film lacks is genuine and sustained scares.
Instead of being terrifying, APOLLO 18 is merely a modest and
half-hearted diversion that does not really linger with viewers.
how this fake-umentary’s “story” unfolds.
In late 1974 the Department of Defense contacts the crew of the
previously cancelled Apollo 18 mission and let’s them know that it is now
officially a “go.” There
little unsettling element, though: it’s been deemed as a top-secret
mission that will never see the light of day in the public eye on TV
(you’d think that the crew would perhaps ask more questions about the
mysterious nature of the mission, but never mind).
The crew is comprised of Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Captain
Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) and what they are told is this: they will go to the moon
to take rock samples, but their larger mission is to place detectors
on the lunar surface to alert the U.S. of any potential nuclear attacks
from those damn, dirty Ruskies.
the men do land on the moon everything seems to be as normal as it was for
any of the previous missions: the men depart from their tiny capsules, hop
up and down the lunar terrain, and dutifully perform their intended
scientific mission. However, when
they astronauts begin to notice some real anomalies on the surface they
begin to raise their eyebrows (weird signal interference on their satellites, odd noises emitting in the atmosphere, and, worst of all, their
recently planted American flag has gone mysteriously missing).
The pair decides to do more sightseeing as result, during which they
come across – to their shock – other human made footprints that are
not from their own space suits. Things
really change for the worse when they discover an abandoned Soviet lander
that is still functional, but covered in blood.
Walker decides to bravely trek down into a dark and dreary crater
(one of the film’s better nail-biting sequences of suspense) where he
finds a dead cosmonaut. The
men do relay their astonishing findings to mission control, but Houston
tells them to ignore what they have discovered and intrepidly move onward.
It soon becomes apparent that there is something decidedly not
man-made or moon-based with them that may prevent the astronauts from
returning to Earth...period.
18 was produced by Timur Bekmambetov (who made the deliriously good WANTED)
and was directed by Spanish-born Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego.
Filming occurred in Vancouver, B.C., which is never, ever hinted at in the final product. APOLLO
18 is incontrovertibly a triumph of artificiality and production artifice.
Gallego uses rough, granular 16mm black and white (and occasional
color) film stock, fractured editing, strange dissolves, and jerky
compositions to evoke not only the film’s period, but also that of the
found footage itself. The
film is purposely and meticulously orchestrated to the point where the
events do indeed look credible. One
of the ironies of the original moon landing was the fact that many
conspiracy nuts believed that they were faked.
One of the pleasures of APOLLO 18 is that, as far as fakery goes,
there are rarely moments in it where you don’t buy into its presentation of
the claustrophobic conditions of the lunar capsule, the gravity-defying
movements of the astronauts, and the foreboding and desolate panoramic moon
vistas. It may have been shot
in Canada, but it sure looks like it was on the moon.
technically proficient and authentically atmospheric as the film is,
APOLLO 18 really suffers when it comes to delivering scares on a regular
basis. Films like BLAIR WITCH
and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY knew how to make people feel genuinely uneasy and
frightened, whereas APOLLO 18 never seems to sustain equal levels of sinister
vibes throughout. The
performances by the largely unknown cast members are thanklessly good, but
there is very little in terms of actual character development here:
they’re sort of faceless drones at service of the film’s technique.
Even more regrettable is how the film seems to capsize in its final
20-30 minutes or so that becomes – as the film divulges its
alien secrets - perpetually sillier and more conventional as it hastily
wraps itself up. The last
sections should have built to something momentous, but instead ends with
an uneventful and unimaginative thud.
Furthermore, there’s not much of an actually plot in APOLLO 18 either, when you think about it, which makes the already brief and gimmicky film at 90 minutes feel like 190 at times. There is much to admire, though, in the film: its admirably realistic aesthetic and its willingness to take the mockumentary genre into new planes of mock-reality. Ultimately, APOLLO 18 is just a lukewarm chiller of a sci-fi horror flick that rarely – even as much as it wants to – makes us jump out of our seats in a frenzied panic. My nephew perhaps best summarized his issues with the film by saying that “nothing really interesting happens in it.” Succinctly spoken, for sure.