Space is, famously, a place where no one can hear you scream, a harsh environment that limits movement, and therefore escape. As such, it's a pretty obvious place to set a horror film, one that's been used to varied effect in films like Alien, Event Horizon, and Pandorum. Apollo 18 follows in those low-gravity footsteps in its attempt to meld the "holy shit the only place I can run to doesn't have any air" claustrophobia of the best space thriller films with the newly voguish found-footage horror genre. For a film that runs less than 90 minutes, it takes a surprisingly pleasing slow burn approach to its subject matter, even if, in the end, there's more sizzle than steak to be had.
Like the granddaddy of the genre, The Blair Witch Project, Apollo 18 sticks pretty close to its guns in terms of establishing the footage within as possessing some measure of authenticity. NASA did, in fact, originally plan to have Apollo missions 18, 19, and 20 take place, but they were supposedly cancelled due to budget cuts, making 17 the final trip to the moon. As the title implies, Apollo 18 posits that there was at least one more flight, a clandestine yet heavily documented trip undertaken in 1972 under the auspices of the Department of Defense. As the backstory goes, someone leaked the footage from the trip last year to lunartruth.com, the proprietors of which edited it down and released the film we see before us. (And, as with Blair Witch and its groundbreaking online marketing, that site leads to missioncontrolblog.org, a surprisingly wordy viral marketing site, featuring updates--and comments on those updates!--as far back as June 2010.)
Most found-footage films necessarily take place in relatively modern times, when camera technology had advanced to the point where it was feasible, if unlikely, that people trapped in zombie-filled apartment buildings or in devil-possessed houses could record themselves for hours on end without worrying about running out of film or storage or battery life. Apollo 18 exaggerates that trend by supposing that the two-man crew of its lunar module carried enough film to record themselves, in all facets of their mission, for over 80 hours, on what look to be Super 8 cameras. The look of the film is likely to be its most divisive aspect; a lot of it seems to be in a 4:3 ratio, and fair chunks of it run at under 24 fps. I'm not sure precisely how the movie was filmed, but if it was shot on modern equipment, a lot of work has been done to dirty it up and emulate the look and feel of an early-70's home movie, albeit one that was shot on the Moon and "edited" by an anonymous set of "webmasters" for theatrical release.
In addition to the hand-held cameras that the two astronauts in the lunar lander use on each other, there are a number of stationary interior cameras that constantly record them, as well as motion-detecting cameras that they're asked to set up outside their ship, which conveniently point backwards towards them. Many of these sources have different aspect ratios, film grains, and levels of roughness or digital disortion to them, which can make the cuts between them seem a bit jarring. The filmmakers have obviously gone to great lengths to make their footage believable in the context of it being from 1972, but after a while one starts to wish that the film had begun with a sentence like "Hey, look at these top-secret digital cameras the Defense Department gave us! They're so much better than those crappy Super 8s you guys almost had to bring with you!"
That verisimilitude does help sell the drama, though, and while the film gets its astronauts into space within minutes, it takes its time ratcheting up the scares. Everything seems normal at the outset, but that all changes in a hurry when one of the astronauts finds boot prints, from a boot that obviously doesn't belong to either of them. Soon enough, a Soviet lunar lander is discovered, alongside the corpse of a cosmonaut who appears to have been stabbed to death, even though no other cosmonaut is to be found. Strange events start occurring, rock samples are misplaced, interference cuts off their communications with Houston, and, ominously, the flag that was set up outside of the lander goes missing, in the absence of any wind or weather to explain its disappearance. Tensions rise between the two men as they realize the implications of each piece of evidence, which leads to...
Well, it'd be poor form to divulge any more of the story, but as with many films that take their time building up to a climax, the ultimate revelation behind the events feels a bit underwhelming when it's reached. That doesn't mean that the journey is any less enjoyable, though; the pacing and editing here does a great job of building up to each creepy moment, especially considering that the bulk of the film doesn't have any music to fall back on for tension. There are some legitimate hold-your-breath sequences to be found as the shit progresses towards the fan, and refreshingly enough, not all of them result in jump scares.
As an experiment in technical mise-en-scène, Apollo 18 is undeniably impressive. Shot on a bargain budget of $5 million, it does a far better job of immersing you in the notion of these actors actually being on the surface of another world than many blockbuster tentpoles have in the past. That attention to detail may wind up ultimately being a bit too strict for the film's own good; a bit of anachronism in terms of the camerawork might have hurt the film's commitment to its found-footage ethos, but it certainly would've made it easier to watch. That problem is hardly a major one, though, and while Apollo 18 might not be the scariest found-footage film yet made, it's still a solid genre entry with some quality scares.
Trailer 2: Apollo 18
It's like Apollo 13, but five better. Also it's got moon demons. Take THAT, Ron Howard.
Apollo 18 Trailer
This sci-fi horror thriller purports to explain why America has yet to return to the moon--and it's not because we're too busy de-funding NASA so we can sponsor NASCAR.
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