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.