Apollo 18 (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Apollo 18 (2011)

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Audiences have turned out in droves to watch the Paranormal Activity series, so unfazed by the lack of scares and sterile progression that each film in the franchise has made millions of dollars.  Quality be damned, our culture has decided that is the kind of found-footage horror film we want to see.  So afford me a kindness for a moment, because it is a total crock that a movie like Apollo 18 gets derided as a PA ripoff when it's superior in every way.

Apollo 18 has been one of the years most derided films and this reputation perplexes me greatly.  It's a fun rewrite of our space program and recently abandoned lunar exploration missions, setting the stage during the abandoned Apollo 18 mission which the film tells us actually occurred.  The conceit actually has potential implications outside of its fictional premise, offering a wonderfully implausible explanation for our decision to stay firmly grounded on this planet.

This is the direction that found-footage films should be going in.  Instead of the shaky-cam footage of films like Troll Hunter or the endless static shots of the PA series, Apollo 18 finds different ways to explore the spacecraft and its surrounding area via the various cameras attached to the crew and ship.  This makes for a far more dynamic visual experience than the average found-footage film, switching organically from frantic escapes to seemingly peaceful shots when taken in the vacuum of space.

The film captures the dusty, rugged heroism of the first generation of astronauts both in performance and presentation.

One of Apollo 18's greatest accomplishments is highlighting just how precarious our situation on Earth is.  There's a presence of confinement and limited growth for the astronauts, and when they look at our beautiful planet as a means of escape, the implication that we just don't have anywhere to go grows steadily.  The only solution, at least for the foreseeable future, is to do what the astronauts superiors do - send dutiful patriots (effectively played by Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins)  blindly to their death again and again until we get a plan for expansion correct.

The creeping fear bleeds into the soundtrack as well.  Rather, the lack of a soundtrack is felt throughout the film.  There is no music and very little sound (it is space, after all), forcing the audience to weight the impact and necessity of every breath we hear the astronauts take.  When there's a rumble we know something is wrong, and when it cuts off entirely we can tell yet again there is nowhere to go.

The overall dread facing the fate of our planet and the astronauts is combined with some very scary moments when the astronauts face off against the aliens.  But in pondering that statement I realize it's a bit misleading.  We never get the catharsis of a big showdown like in Alien or it's sequels, and while (with the exception of Resurrection) those are stronger films the bleak feeling Apollo 18 left me with was far more depressing.  The aliens are more felt and their after-effects seen rather than them attacking and the astronauts defending, leaving me with the impression that director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego really put a lot of faith in his skill and the audiences ability to think in figuring out the horror.

We only get flashes of what the aliens do once they infect humans, and a split-second of this is really all you need to get the hint. Thankfully, the film does not overdo it on the appearances.

Like Take Shelter, Apollo 18 uses some of the lingering feelings of paranoia caused by the Cold War to fuel its story.  If anything, the reception Apollo 18 has received is just indicative of a depressing trend in horror films that everything needs to be spelled out.  Going back to the PA franchise, it's not enough that the scares have to be predictable, we also have to have the backstory of every action the characters take while possessed (two prequels and more on the way!)

Apollo 18 has a clever premise, freshly executed with harsh photography that would have made the F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu) quite proud.  I'm glad it's found some financial success but I'll hold out hope that, years from now, when the found-footage genre has grown beyond it's usefulness a plucky young director will find a copy of Apollo 18 and think, "So that's how it's supposed to be done."

Apollo 18
Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego.
Screenplay by Brian Miller.
Starring Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. what happened to lunartruth.com?

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