Call it The Blair Witch Project on the moon; Apollo 18 takes the found footage horror sub-genre into outer space. The story of a lost NASA mission hidden from the public for nearly 30 years, Apollo 18 somehow manages to seem fresh and exciting even as it recycles the edgy tensions of the Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity.
By official account, the Apollo 18 mission never happened. However, footage has somehow popped up on a conspiracy obsessed website and it reveals footage shot by three astronauts of a mission to the moon gone horribly wrong. In the course of 85 minutes we will watch what begins as any other mission to the moon, as it becomes a slowly unfolding tragedy.
The mission goes off without a hitch, from launch to the landing of two astronauts on the lunar surface as a third circles the moon waiting to drive everyone back to earth. Once on the moon however, strange things begin to happen. First, communications breakdown between the moon lander and NASA.
Then, in a shocking and unexpected twist, the astronauts find that they are not alone on the moon; another country has recently been on the moon and they left behind terror in their wake. I won’t spoil the surprise as many other critics already have; I will only say that there is blood and plenty of it on the moon.
Apollo 18 was directed by the ingenious Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego who makes clever use of ancient camera technology, the film is set in 1974, to limit what we can see and reinforce the film’s found footage premise. The cameras that the astronauts were instructed to plant on the moon give us static images that when lingered on require audience members to search the screen for clues in what becomes a tense search for signs of life.
Actors Warren Christie and Lloyd Owen are cleverly cast as the terrified and confused astronauts. Both actors are vaguely recognizable but are not so well known that they take you out of what is supposed to be an assemblage of found footage edited into ‘documentary’ form. Cast Matt Damon as one of the astronauts and the movie-ness would undermine the notion of found footage.
Apollo 18 doesn’t break any new ground but the film is well shot, the scares arrive in a strong rhythm keeping the audience in a state of perpetual tension and the finale leaves no questions about the astronauts’ fates. Most importantly, Apollo 18 has one moment, one big scare, that will elicit more than a few terrified shrieks.
And you know what? That’s really all you can ask of a movie that is essentially The Blair Witch Project on the moon.
Apollo 18 recycles the premise of The Blair Witch Project on the moon and still manages a few good scares.