“Apollo 18” a good idea that never quite takes off
The intriguing premise of “Apollo 18”—the REAL reason we never went back to the moon—is underserved by the lack of memorable scare tactics in a fairly benign script. The visual techniques, using what appear to be film remnants shot by the astronauts themselves, fixed on-board cameras, and motion sensor monitors strategically placed on the lunar surface, work fine for a while. The idea is that this secret footage—often dimly lit, fuzzy, and marred by constant static—was only recently unearthed. But given the film’s release in the post “Blair Witch” and “Paranormal” world, a pseudo-reality space nightmare is going to be a tough sell.
The astronauts (Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins) are advised of their hush-hush mission to the moon, but ultimately become unknowing pawns in a covert effort by NASA and the Department of Defense to keep the real purpose of their mission a secret.
(Spoiler alert: The film requires a lot of buy-in on the part of the audience, especially as the astronauts realize they are left alone to battle whatever it is that has doomed a previous space mission by another country.)
Though the actors are well-cast, the script sometimes hampers their credibility as highly trained engineers and scientists. (Constant exclamations of, “What the hell was that?”) The group also seems to panic rather quickly. There are a couple of effective scare moments that work mostly because “Apollo 18” is a pretty quiet movie for long stretches. Unfortunately, these would only be truly worthwhile if the film were able to reach a pitch of palpable terror along the lines of the classic “Alien.”
And there’s the problem. If you haven’t seen many scary movies since, say, “Alien” (circa 1979 if you can believe it), then perhaps “Apollo 18”’s modest ambition and fairly predictable fright factor will work for you.
But for most, “Apollo 18” will seem less like an effective throwback and more like a low-budget, high concept thriller that really never reaches liftoff.
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and language.