In space, no one can hear your cliche
Space: the final frontier. Outer space is an effective backdrop for horror movies because it is the epitome of the unknown. Despite all of humanity's work and technology, we have only gone to Earth's moon a limited number of times. Economic problems across the world have put a halt to space travel, cutting off our exploration and leaving so many questions unanswered. It is the unknown that makes horror movies in space work. The mind runs wild with thoughts of aliens, monsters, and “other” things that may be out there. The world is dangerous, but at least we have an idea of what may happen. Outer space is completely different. So many things can go wrong and no one will be able to save you.
Apollo 18 is a 2011 science fiction horror movie starring Warren Christie (October Road, Alphas) as Lunar Module Pilot Captain Ben Anderson and Lloyd Owens (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Innocent) as Commander Nate Walker. In December 1974, the canceled Apollo 18 mission to the moon is reinstated as a top secret mission by the Department of Defense. Ben, Nate, and Command Module Pilot Lieutenant Colonel John Grey are launched to the moon in order to place machines that will detect Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles being launched by the USSR. Ben and Nate land on the moon via their lunar module while John stays in orbit on the Freedom module. They plant the detectors along with the American flag while picking up moon rock samples. Ben notes that they feel strange and when they return to the module, they hear strange chittering sounds on their radio. During further exploration, they find footprints not belonging to either one of them. They follow the footprints to a Soviet module and discover a dead Cosmonaut inside. They contact mission control in Houston and ask if they knew that the Soviets had reached the moon. Houston gives them the run-around and tells them to continue their mission. The next day, they discover that the flag they planted has gone missing. As they prepare to leave, their module shakes violently, and their launch is aborted. Outside, Nate claims to feel something in his helmet and panics. Ben retrieves him and brings him back in the module. They discover that something has embedded itself inside Nate's body and Ben cuts out what appears to be a moon rock. Nate soon becomes sick and Ben is unable to make contact with Freedom or Houston due to interference and strange sounds over the radio. How will they be able to get home and what is the real reason they were sent to the moon?
Ahh! It's that stupid Call Me Maybe song!
Apollo 18 is a slow-build horror movie, taking it's time to set the stage and not rushing into action. If you're looking for exploding heads and evisceration, you are going to be sadly disappointed. You don't need to be bashed over the head with violence and jump-at-you-from-the-dark moments. The movie focuses more on atmosphere and hints of danger to instill fear in the audience instead of blood and gore. Apollo 18 falls into the “found footage” category, but unlike movies like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, the found footage doesn't feel like a gimmick to get cheap scares. It lends a level of authenticity to the story, since the footage has a retro quality and the dialogue is full of technical jargon. They could have been making it all up, but it sounded right, which is good enough. It didn't occur to me right away, but there is no music in the movie. This adds to the authenticity and lets the mind run wild throughout the movie instead of when music typically cues up.
A big reason why I enjoyed Apollo 18 is because I really like the concept. No one has gone to the moon in my lifetime and the movie gives a reason why. It's a fun little conspiracy theory that doesn't require the audience to wear tinfoil hats and scream about the Trilateral Commission teaming up with the Illuminati and the Girl Scouts of America. The movie is built upon a simple question and let's the audience's imagination run wild. The acting is very good and adds legitimacy to the story. The movie is directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, who does a good job using various surveillance shots to set the scenes and hand-held cameras to capture emotion and action. The movie uses some effects, but doesn't overdue it. I would have liked a little more definitive shots of the creatures and some more action.
In Soviet Russia, Moon goes to you!
Apollo 18 is a fun science fiction horror movie that focuses on more traditional horror than many of today's blood and guts horror films. The concept is good and comes to life thanks to solid acting and directing. Normally, I am wary of “found footage” movies because they use the gimmick too much and forget to have a good story. The Blair Witch Project is a good example of this. Thankfully, Apollo 18 uses found footage to it's advantage, giving the movie a vintage feel and forgoing music for storytelling. It's a shame to see so many negative reviews for the movie because I think it's very entertaining. Leave your preconceived notions of horror at the door and see Apollo 18 for yourself.