BLU-RAY REVIEW: Does ‘Apollo 18’ have the right stuff?

'Apollo 18' — Cover art courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Earlier this year, Hollywood Soapbox reviewed the new horror film, Apollo 18.

Anchor Bay Entertainment recently released the movie on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Found-footage thrillers have been a constant presence in movie theaters ever since The Blair Witch Project essentially created the sub-genre in 1999. From the Paranormal Activity franchise to Cloverfield, Evil Things and this year’s Atrocious, the concept of watching “actual” horror unfold before our eyes has been tantalizing.

Is there room for one more found-footage film?

Apollo 18 doesn’t make the best case that this sub-genre is alive and well. The film is never boring, but it doesn’t convince the viewer that this footage is worth the effort. It also fails to answer a rather important question: Why don’t these guys drop the camera and focus more on surviving?

The movie, directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego, details a secret Apollo mission at the height of the Cold War. Warren Christie, from Syfy’s Alphas, joins Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins in uncredited roles. The three are selected clandestinely by NASA to head into space and inspect something on the moon. The astronauts are instructed that they can’t divulge any information to their loved ones and they will never be able to talk about their experiences. Although the need for secrecy is chalked up to the ongoing struggle with the Soviet Union, some red flags should have gone off in these characters’ heads.

 

The film, which runs a quick 88 minutes, is supposedly patched together from hours of footage that was released on a NASA watchdog web site. The images are grainy and sometimes roughly spliced together, which adds to the atmosphere. All of the actors play their parts with a believable intensity. Christie and Owen, the two members of the mission who actually get to walk on the moon, offer nice portraits of men with the “right stuff.”

While taking their samples and reporting back to NASA headquarters, the inevitable begins to occur. Without spoiling too much, the astronauts come across the corpse of a Russian astronaut who appears to have been the victim of an alien attack. The most frightening revelation is that these aliens are still lurking around.

A movie like this, which doesn’t rely on splashy special effects, needs to create a claustrophobic terror that is inescapable. Apollo 18 simply can’t do that, although it tries. When the cameras stop rolling and the fate of the astronauts hangs in the balance, the audience is left with a definite feeling of letdown. The big discovery doesn’t earn many oohs or aahs, and it’s difficult not to feel cheated by the whole project. That’s why we haven’t gone back to the moon?

Typically, found-footage films are superior on plot and storytelling, but fall apart when characters and acting are brought into the equation. The reverse is true for Apollo 18. I found myself interested in these three men and their unbelievable mission, but the details of what they were exploring never attracted my attention.

Kudos to the director for sticking to the graininess of the film and attempting to build some suspense. But a movie like this is only as good as its gimmick, and in that department, this mission fails.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Apollo 18

  • 2011

  • Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego

  • Written by Brian Miller and Cory Goodman

  • Starring Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins

  • Running time: 88 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and language

  • Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Combo feature: feature commentary with director Gonzalo López-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier, deleted and alternative scenes, alternate endings.

  • Rating: ★★½☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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