“Apollo 18” imagines two hypothetical scenarios. One, what if there’d been a secret mission to the Moon after the Apollo space program was officially discontinued? And two, what if the “found footage” genre of horror filmmaking were still fresh and original? Pretty hard to swallow, I know. I mean, “Blair Witch Project” was 12 years ago.
This entry, cheap in both budget and imagination, purports to be what the astronauts’ cameras picked up while they were documenting their hush-hush lunar expedition in the 1970s. Mission commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Capt. Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) take a probe to the Moon’s surface to gather samples and conduct tests, while their third wheel (Ryan Robbins) orbits, a little jealous that he came all this way but doesn’t get to set foot on the Moon.
But hey, guess what? THERE MIGHT BE SOMETHING DANGEROUS ON THE MOON!
There’s nothing wrong with the premise here. Horror movies in which explorers find something inhabiting a place thought to be uninhabited are a subgenre unto themselves, and the Moon is the most remote and desolate place humans have ever gone. Plus, it’s fun to contemplate alternate answers to the question of why we stopped going there. (“Budgetary concerns”? Pssh. You’re so naive.)
To succeed, however, a movie like this — with a tiny cast and a narrowly defined area of action — needs to keep the suspense constant and the thrills frequent, and give us interesting characters to hang out with during the downtime. “Apollo 18” does neither. Kind of directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and barely written by Brian Miller, it’s all slow-burn and no payoff. Apart from a few moments of mild tension, nothing about the story is compelling. The source of the creepy events, when it’s finally revealed, is profoundly dull, like a forgettable episode of “The X-Files” or “Fringe.” The characters, meanwhile, are so underwritten and so blandly performed that I can’t even muster the energy to be apathetic toward them. This is a disappointingly un-scary execution of a promising idea.
D (1 hr., 22 min.; )
Contrary to regular industry practice, this film was not screened for critics before opening.
Reprinted from Film.com.