On a classified mission to the moon, tasked with planting detectors as part of an early warning system for ICBM attacks on the USA, cosmonauts Commander Nathan Walker and Captain Benjamin Anderson depart Freedom to land the lunar module Liberty on the moon’s surface.
Unable to sleep and the subject of certain mysterious goings on, their suspicions are ultimately aroused when they discover the corpse of a Russian cosmonaut while on routine expedition. Sensing that there is more to their assignment than first perceived, Nate and Ben must face the very real possibility that they are not in fact alone on the moon.
Considering the sheer ineptitude of the advertising campaign – noteworthy only for the new low it constituted in the industry’s use of photoshop – you could be forgiven for writing Apollo 18 off as a bit of a waste of time. But if every movie was judged on it’s posterwork alone Kevin James wouldn’t be the employed actor he is today.
OK, so maybe I should think before I analogise. My point is that going in with low expectations I was pleasantly surprised by Apollo 18; it may be no Troll Hunter (what is?), but it nevertheless engages with surprising aplomb, using its particular filmmaking device to arresting effect. While the film might lag in the beginning, as the mandatory genre statements inform us that the following footage was ‘leaked’ onto the internet after a decades-long cover-up, the footage used appears staggeringly authentic, with images of launches and apparent routine successfully inducing a growing sense of immersion that compliments the skeletal narrative greatly, effectively invoking a sense of novel mundaneness before things inevitably get a little Alien.
Once the film has settled, and the images have become more consistently stable (the found-footage element is a little invasive to begin with), an eerie atmosphere is allowed to slowly develop as our astronauts begin to suspect that they are not alone on the moon. Although short on genuine terror, Apollo 18 is definitely more accomplished at suspense than the trailer seems to suggest, as two crater-set scenes exist to display. With a cast of only three actors – not including the extras composing a set of highly unnecessary flashback sequences – leads Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and to a lesser extent Ryan Robbins competently hold their own, particularly as the film approaches its frantic and desperate conclusion.
However, while they do their best with the source material, Apollo 18 lacks any real punch. Divulging little more about our heroes than that they like barbeques and dislike rubbing jalapenio juice into their crotches, John, Nate and Ben are little more than cyphers, lacking any real personality. For this reason, the jeopardy in which their lives are placed is of no real meaning. Sure, it sucks that they are stranded on the moon with – well, you had better wait and see – but why should we care? Yes, they have wives and children, but they’re not the ones with their lives hanging in the balance.
The result of this is that the film, though perfectly well directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, is a decidedly unfulfilling experience. Though technically adequate, there is little to set this film aside from previous found-footage fare beyond the novelty of its setting – a limitation approaching travesty when you consider the presence of Timur Bekmambetov on the film’s credits as producer (Night Watch was pretty much all punch). Beyond the atmospheric scrambling of footage and a few decent effects, Lopez-Gallego’s film is sadly of little note. Merely fine, Apollo 18 might reward low expectations but is unlikely to warrant repeated viewing.