by Jef Burnham
Available December 27th, 2011 on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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The stylistic conventions of Apollo 18, as yet another in the current trend of “found footage” horror films, ultimately promises much in the way of realistic horror, but stumbles generically in both content and form. The failure of the film is extremely unfortunate, especially as the creatures and creature effects are ultimately really cool. There are just too many missed opportunities in Apollo 18 to warrant more than a single viewing. The film supposedly presents footage from a covert moon mission (that of the titular Apollo craft) during which the landing astronauts come under attack by a breed of moon-dwelling rock creatures. This, according to the filmmakers, is why we have not since been to the moon.
The filmmakers’ faltering in the application of generic elements results in a lack of focus for the film’s horror throughline. The threats motivating the action are unclear throughout, teetering awkwardly between the external and internal threats of the moon creatures and the astronaut they (somehow) infect (with… something) and drive crazy. Thus the source of the horror remains divided and undecided, the result being that the film simply is not scary, even if it does contain a couple successful jump scares. As a viewer I found this lack of focus incredibly disappointing, especially as the real source of horror is quite obviously the moon creatures and not the threat of the mad astronaut. As such, the infection of the astronaut serves merely to distract and divert screen time from the far more horrifying creature interactions. To me, this signifies something of a failure on the part of the filmmakers during the earliest phases of the films conception.
Furthermore, unlike films such as Paranormal Activity, which handle the found footage elements quite well, Apollo 18 (being set in 1974) fails to present a convincing reality as the technology with which the astronauts supposedly recorded the events often clearly haven’t the ability to record sound. So instead of presenting a convincing reality, the filmmakers utilize the found footage conceit of the film to highlight where creatures are moving in the background of a shot by slowing the footage and darkening the image around the moving rock. This further undermines the horror of the situation by presenting the creatures scientifically.
Special features on the Anchor Bay release include audio commentary with director Gonzalo López-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier, deleted and alternate scenes, and a significant number of alternate endings. The abundance of alternate endings here says a lot about the film, I think, specifically that the filmmakers weren’t quite sure which direction to take. Admittedly, these alternate endings are just the protagonist dying in different ways. However, that there are so many different ways in which the filmmakers envisioned the character as being able to be killed shows that the specifics of what they were actually trying to make scary was unclear to them.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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