Footage recovered from 1974 shows three American astronauts sent to the moon. Their mission: to set up equipment that can monitor the Russians. However, during their operation they discover disturbing, unexpected activity.
The best that can be said of this film is that, in places, it makes you jump. The soundscape is tense with ‘unexplained’ frequencies and heartbeat rhythms. The pacing is poor but allows for an occasional shock. And concepts such as ‘there’s something in my space suit’ are at least uncomfortable. However, none of these can save Apollo 18 from being a low-budget, badly-thought-out mess.
The found-footage genre, starting with Cannibal Holocaust, made famous by The Blair Witch Project and recently seen in Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield, can be effective in creating fear. An amateur film style combined with realistic dialogue is potentially terrifying because we identify closely with the characters in the illusion of a real situation.
Apollo 18 was not terrifying, mainly because it failed to do this. Not for a second did I buy into their illusion, if only because the situation and plot were perversely unbelievable. Minor details, like how the audio was recorded on 1974 16mm cameras, or when communications were down, seemed to be lacking explanation. The recovery of the footage itself is a whole other world of ridiculous. But even without these blunders, the film fails to impress because it’s near impossible to care about the two-dimensional characters.
The first fifteen minutes were filled with shots of between two and five seconds, which was nauseating. The characters I should have been engaging with were bland flashes in a montage of space suits and grainy home video. I grew irritated with the heavy-handed editing and wondered if the director was worried we’d lose interest if we didn’t get to the moon soon. Instead of investing in the characters, I was wishing the camera would pause long enough for my eyes to focus.
The end result was that when the inevitable trouble came, my fear only reached the ‘something’s-about-to-go-boo’ level – I cared more about where the next shock was coming from than what happened to the characters. The film touched on trust issues with the powers that be, but missed out by not developing the relationship strain between the astronauts. Some terse words was as far as we got before they wandered off again, without a torch, but with a camera. Too keen to show off techniques like the flash gun in the dark (think Julia’s Eyes for a recent example of how this can be done well), the film was about nervous jolts, neglecting to develop its story.
Apollo 18 is a film of badly-judged camera techniques, little empathy and no belief. It was uncomfortable to watch the characters guess at unlikely theories to move the plot further into the hole it had already dug for itself. Nerve-racking it may be, but overall it misses the mark.