The “found footage” mockumentary genre has been going surprisingly strong since “The Blair Witch Project” popularized the filmmaking style in the 1990’s, and it was only a matter of time before the genre found its way into outer space. In what might be the first totally lunar-based horror film, “Apollo 18” purports to be an assemblage of discovered NASA footage detailing a secret Moon mission and revealing the apparent horrors that have prevented humans from returning.
Three astronauts go up in Apollo 18 in a secret mission to plant little radars for the Department of Defense, apparently to help keep an eye on Soviet missiles that might come their way. Once at the moon, John Grey (Ryan Robbins, AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem) stays in the spacecraft in orbit, and the lunar module is taken down by Ben Anderson (Warren Christie, Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation) and Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles). After they touch down, Anderson and Walker set on their two-day mission to install the DoD radars and motion sensor cameras, though they never explain why these cameras are installed (obviously it’s so we can have a movie in the first place, but still, they never explain it and the astronauts don’t question it). Very quickly, these two guys discover that something is a little strange on the surface of the moon, and the cameras catch little glimpses of movement here and there, and it’s a slow burn to the gradual reveal of what’s really going on.
This is a good idea for a movie, and it probably would have been better if they filmed it normally instead of going with the whole static found footage conceit, because it hamstrings the film in so many ways. In their attempts to inject realism into the premise, they overdid the seriousness and made a completely humor-free and joyless film. Then there is the fact that they made the movie look like found footage from the 1960’s, which made this a particularly ugly and depressing film to look at, as it was all grainy footage of gray landscape and rocks. Plus all the jumping and flickering that was added to get the effect across ended up being rather annoying. If they just made this with normal cameras, either film or digital, and made a straight up horror movie set on the moon, then it would have worked better for sure, but these aesthetic aspects of “Apollo 18” are just ugly and unappealing and boring.
Then again, maybe all of the 35mm film stock and smart direction in the world would not have been able to save the weak reveals of the story. The aliens or monsters or whatever you want to call them depicted in the movie are kind of clever but also kind of stupid, so their eventual reveal is a big dud of whatever. There is one great emergency surgery scene inside the lunar module that is well done and creepy and gross, but this is a two-minute scene in an 88-minute movie, so the good to bad ratio is definitely way out of whack here. Actually, there is one other neat idea in which Anderson goes down in a dark crater to investigate and he uses the flash on his camera to get glimpses of the crater, and we get some creepy sights and visuals from the bright flash in the dark and what we get to see, so this adds another two minutes of decent movie making in an otherwise boring excuse for a moon-set horror movie.
It is a shame that his movie sucks so much because it is a fun idea that could have been made into a fun movie. Instead “Apollo 18” is a lifeless mess of a bad movie, stretched out beyond belief to barely make an adequate running time, and filled with so many boring shots of nothing happening on the moon that you’ll swear you would know what it’s like to be stranded there yourself, alone in a gray world of nothingness and insane boredom, with a sprinkling of moon rocks.