Apollo 18 Review

There’s more to the moon that meets the eye in this found-footage horror yarn.

**SPOILER ALERT** – be advised that the following review contains a few minor spoilers regarding the film’s plot

Radio 4 Extra has recently been broadcasting the 1950s BBC science-fiction serial Journey into Space (“…starring Andrew Faulds as ‘Jet’ Morgan!”). It’s got all the classic ingredients from the period – square-jawed heroes exploring the great unknown, mysterious goings-on in space, a threat discovered on a planetary body thought to be devoid of life. I mention all this because Apollo 18 is in reality nothing more than an updating of any one of a thousand sci-fi tales from the mid-1950s, when Hollywood couldn’t churn them out fast enough. If this had been released back then it would have been called ‘Attack of the Killer Moon Crabs’ and probably have been directed by Ed Wood. But these days we’re in the middle of the found-footage fad, as cash-strapped producers salivate over the profit margins of cheap-to-make hits like Paranormal Activity. There’s only so many haunted house footage tales you can tell however, so inevitably alternative scenarios had to be found.

In an ingenious move, the filmmakers found the perfect solution: lost footage from an Apollo mission that never officially happened. After the compulsory introductory text about the history of the Apollo programme and that this film was compiled from recently discovered footage (yawn), events begin proper with a few interviews with the three chosen astronauts, setting out the hush-hush nature of their mission and the copious amounts of recording equipment flying with them in to space (neatly explaining the existence of said found footage). One short trip to the moon later and strange things start to occur: transmissions begin to break up and objects outside the lunar landing module disappear. But that’s nothing compared to the discovery of a hitherto unknown Soviet spacecraft abandoned in a crater not too far away (thus allowing Russian producer Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) to favourably rewrite space age history for his homeland). From there things only get worse for the two American astronauts stranded on the moon’s surface.

The found-footage angle is of course a complete gimmick, but most of the time director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego successfully gets away with it. The footage largely captures the feel of the period, using grainy and ghostly images to mimic the broadcasts from the moon during the late 60s and early 70s. Only on a handful of occasions does the camerawork betray its latter day origins. Similarly the (uncredited) actors do a decent enough job in portraying the men who can’t wait to follow in the footsteps of Armstrong and Aldrin. The script even throws in a reference to Watergate which serves to embellish the mood of paranoia that begins to settle on the crew.

Suspense is nicely developed early on by Lopez-Gallego as we follow the astronauts on their moon buggy and walks around the landing site. The eerie and desolate lunar landscape in convincingly evoked, and there’s a decent sustained sequence as one of the crew descends in to a pitch black crater. But the film still sticks rigidly to the traditional horror formula, as Lopez-Gallego favours loud noises and jump shocks instead of anything approaching psychological terror.

The nature of the problems that beset the crew is the picture’s chief flaw. Having carefully built a reasonable mood of tension, the final reveal comes off as a tad silly: all mouth and no trousers, you might say. It’s a pitch looking for a story, and evidently by the time cameras started rolling no-one had thought of a decent conclusion (that the budget could stretch to, anyway). In a way, it’s a shame the film wasn’t made in the 1950s because it might have been more successful had it been written in a conventional manner. But then again, would many people have gone to see a film called Attack of the Killer Moon Crabs?

Gavin Midgley

Updated: Sep 05, 2011

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