As boldly announced at the opening of Apollo 18, there was officially only 17 lunar missions and this film is the reason that NASA have never been back. Over 84 hours of footage were submitted to the website www.lunartruth.com and this film is an edited version of those events. The goal of the mission is to install surveillance cameras on the moon but inevitably things go sour.
Found footage is a tool used by modern horror directors to play with realism instead of fantasy. It also shows a massive lack of imagination of style over execution. Apollo 18’s status as a found footage film presents an issue straight away. How was this footage that was shot in 1974 come into possession of someone in the modern-day when it was previously lost in space? It’s a massive continuity error and one I am going to ignore as it has no real bearing on the enjoyment of Apollo 18. The believability? Yes, the enjoyment? No. Speaking of which, for this to be a found footage film must mean that there was a camera crew up there filming the footage as there are scores of camera angles that just wouldn’t be possible if this was truly found footage.
Gonzalo López-Gallego’s film doesn’t open with a disregard for believability, instead it starts like a documentary by having interviews with the crew. Here they talk about their families and they comment on the secrecy of the 18th mission to the moon. The facts that are established early on serve as substitutions to characterisation, the lead in Warren Christie’s back story is that he has a small child and wife; even less is established about his superior Lloyd Owens. An often used adage when talking about horror comes to mind, why should you care about what happens to characters you have no emotional attachment to? It’s a problem with film after film. If it wasn’t for the thriving independent horror scene I would really start to question whether anybody actually knew how to make a scary film anymore.
For a visceral genre such as this, Apollo 18 is very sparse film. That’s to say that very little happens until the last 30 minutes making the prior 60 almost unbearably slow. This isn’t to say that I am averse to slow-paced movies, on the contrary, instead this is a film where all the lead in is populated by the two-man crew setting up the equipment as part of their mission. During this period I have to admit that I had a real problem engaging with film. What these early moments do evoke well is the contrast between the isolated sleeping quarters and the deep dark unknown that surrounds them.
It’s from this deep dark unknown that the horror is born and to be frank it is poorly directed at best. Jumping because of the volume booming is not scary, it’s a natural reaction. When that isn’t the case the film looks down at the viewer. At one point there is a tracking shot from one of the surveillance cameras, it’s one of the big reveals and instead of allowing you to interpretate for yourself its highlighted in a way you might expect from TV news. I don’t appreciate being condescended to like this.
When the scares aren’t being over elaborated they are nothing shy of silly. The unknown is much more shocking than the excessive and sadly this is the latter is true here. The mystery and unknown is never broken, the focus of the horror is never explained therefore retaining a shocking quality. After said point, the scares are heavily signposted by the source of horror climbing all over the scenery. You can see it all coming a mile off. Then we have the climax which becomes over the top, clunky and laughable. Yes, I actually laughed. Throwing antagonists at the screen en masse does not make a scary movie especially with the nature of the beast being so audacious, I found it almost impossible not to laugh.
Apollo 18 is far from a bad film. It’s a well acted and unique take on a dated genre method. What could have been a great injection of life ends up as a silly film with an unwieldy ending which defies the logic of everything that proceeded it and adds nothing new to either the found footage or horror genres, in fact it reveals the limits of them all too readily.