REVIEW: “Apollo 18” (2011)

As I’ve said before, the found footage phenomenon has run its course with me. Like many things, Hollywood took an interesting new approach and milked it bone dry. Now it’s impossible to number how many movies use the technique especially in the horror genre. That’s the main reason I was a bit tentative when it came to “Apollo 18”. It also didn’t help that the movie was getting panned by critics and moviegoers alike. But to my surprise I found “Apollo 18” to be a fun little movie that uses and incorporates the found footage style in a slick and fresh fashion. It does have some issues but it also has some great moments wrapped into its tight 88 minute running time.

The general idea behind “Apollo 18” goes something like this – In 1974 NASA canceled a planned lunar expedition. At least that is what we were told. In actuality, Apollo 18 did make the trip to the moon but never returned. It wasn’t until recently that the United States government acknowledged the mission and declassified archived footage documenting the expedition. This movie is the edited video account released from the government of the 1974 trip which turned out to be our last visit to the moon. While this didn’t work for a lot of people, I found it to be a really cool concept. The movie lays all of this out for us through a brief but effective opening sequence. But this is also where the movie hits one of its biggest speed bumps.

We see some brief footage of the three men who will take part in the Apollo 18 mission. We briefly see footage of them at a backyard barbecue with their families. There are also a few scenes of them in training. But that is all we get in terms of building these characters. We never know who these men are and they never rise above your standard cookie-cutter character. I can’t help but think that the movie would have more pop if the characters had more weight. Now there are some scenes later in the movie where we do see a little more of the astronaut’s personalities. But they still feel underwritten to me.

The film really picks up once the mission is underway. Everything is documented through one handheld camera, mounted cameras inside the ship and landing vessel, and cameras planted in the spacesuits. Unlike many of the found footage films, I thought “Apollo 18” puts together the footage in a way that’s very convincing. The film quality resembles what you would expect from 1974 and it’s edited in a way that allows you to believe it could be archived government footage. More importantly, it’s edited in a way that doesn’t hinder the storytelling. Even when the story is taking its time, the editing moves along and flows nicely. This is especially evident when two of the astronauts take the landing craft to the moon. I loved the scenes where the men are exploring the moon’s surface and there’s a wonderfully uncomfortable and claustrophobic feeling when they are inside the small vessel. The intensity amps up once they discover a mysterious life form and the horror elements that the movie teases really kick in. This is where the movie really worked for me.

There is a reveal of sorts as the “Apollo 18” story unfolds. It’s intriguing and loaded with potential. I liked the direction the story goes even though I wish it would have been fleshed out a little more. And that gets back to the movie’s biggest problem – many things feel underplayed. A good argument could be made that the found footage approach does limit to some degree the abilities of the storytelling. Regardless, I did find “Apollo 18” to be much more satisfying than I was expecting. I still can’t help but believe that there was a formula in place for a great movie. “Apollo 18” falls short of greatness, but it succeeds in delivering a solid and unique sci-fi horror picture that I honestly enjoyed.


18 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Apollo 18” (2011)

  1. I’m sorry man, but this movie was terrible. It was slow, dull, boring, and just so damn uneventful. I seriously have no freakin’ clue what even happened at the end and still don’t care to know either. Good review though, bud.

    • LOL, fair enough. I knew when I decided to review this that it had been universally panned. I think the slow deliberate structure was obviously intentional and I bought it. I liked the way it methodically shows the panic and claustrophobia that slowly sets in. But it’s equally obvious that I’m one of the only people in the world it worked for! LOL!

    • I wouldn’t rush out to see it but I think it’s inventive and original. That’s a big reason it worked for me. I think the trailer advertised it as something it wasn’t and that’s one reason it turned some people off. It is slow and deliberate but intentionally so. And for me that works with the narrative. But it does have flaws that keep it from being great as I mentioned. It’s a shame because I think there’s a good formula here. They just don’t see it all the way through.

  2. I’m not sure I’m that curious to see this one Keith, but glad to hear it’s not as bad as I thought. I’m still not fond of found footage genre in general.

  3. I have to say that I really hated this one. You talked about the cameras and style, but I thought the editing was made for people who don’t like actual suspense or build-up. The VCR-like fuzz effects seemed really fake and tacked-on to me. I also couldn’t buy into the explanation of why anyone was up there to begin with. The whole thing about tracking the Russians was horribly explained. I could go on, but I don’t want to crap on it too much since you enjoyed it. I do appreciate different views on movies that are disliked, but in this instance, I think the dislike is earned.

    • Thanks for checking out the review! I really had no problem with the Russian explanation mainly because I came it from a much lighter angle. I knew the “why were they up there” question really wasn’t relevant for what they were shooting for. It fact I knew the movie as a whole would be pretty lightweight stuff so I just went with it and it worked for me. Not a great movie and not one I’ve had a desire to hurry up and rewatch but fun nonetheless. But like I said elsewhere, I know I’m pretty much all alone with this one! lol

      • Believe me, I’m alone on some movies, too, lol.

        Yea, I can understand not really caring about stuff making sense or being fleshed out, but the way they just spewed out the reasoning for everything just made it feel like they didn’t care about details or didn’t have the talent to make it cool.

        On a much lesser note, I think we can retire or at least suspend the use of flash photography in a pitch black environment as a means of suspense. Just saying.

  4. You’ve actually mirrored my sentiments about this movie. I felt exactly the same way. I didn’t feel the the found footage concept was done gratuitously, given the brief explanation in the beginning.

    And I liked the mix of sci-fi to horror-ish elements. It was unexpected and I like it. Good Review.

    • Glad to hear I’m not alone on this one. Thanks for the support! LOL!

      I agree, the mix of sci-fi and horror done within a slightly historical context worked for me. It wasn’t the greatest movie of all time but it was entertaining.

  5. Am of a slightly different opinion with you on this one, Keith. Well, a very different one. This one bored me senseless! I was so hopeful for it. A found footage set in space. But I just got bored. The only highlight for me was the strobe lighting scenes going into the crater. That was very well done. Everything else was just tired. Rocks? ROCKS?! SPACE ROCKS?!

    • LOL! Like I’ve said, I think the filmmaker’s and I are the only ones that found this to be entertaining. I enjoyed the slow burn and thought it gave the movie a cool bit of tension. But I think I’m all alone. lol!

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