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Movie Review: Apollo 18 (PG-13)

apolloKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

Length: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Appropriate for ages 13 and up. The film’s atmosphere is enriched with high levels of tension and long stretches of nervous expectation; there are quite a few moments where viewers may involuntarily leave their seats. We’re treated to some blood and bodily decay along with several close-ups of wounds. Alas, there’s no booze and no girls in space, but, as flyboys do, the astronauts do swear occasionally.

Moonage Nightmare

In space, no one can hear you scream… unless there are cameras everywhere

By Jared Peterson

At 6 years old I was already a certified junior space geek, familiar and fascinated with roaring rockets and cramped space capsules with control panels covered in tantalizing buttons. That was the year Alien first came out, and when I saw ads for the new movie, which featured all the above elements, I quite naturally assumed together a plot that seemed both incredibly cool and, to my nerdy little mind, a little ridiculous. Space monsters vs. astronauts I was on board with, but crammed into a module the size of a couple of phone booths? What do you take me for, a five-year-old? So imagine my surprise when I heard about Apollo 18, with a concept so similar to the one I so astutely misperceived decades ago—alien menace on a broom closet scale.

Apollo 18 only shares one or two traits with Ridley Scott’s definitive sci-fi thriller; all its remaining traits it borrows or steals outright from The Blair Witch Project. In the same choppy, cinema-vérité fashion, it submits for your approval a previously unknown horror story, assembled from raw “found footage” and narrated by its increasingly frazzled subjects, which has only now been wikileaked into the public consciousness by an anonymous source. In this case, it is a decades-old conspiracy the opposite of the faked moon-landing scenario—a government cover-up of an Apollo mission launched in secret months after the US had already won the Space Race by forfeit.

The film faithfully recreates a lunar mission with realistic film stock, authentic costumes and equipment and the familiar cadenced techno-babble of the era’s pioneering space cowboys. Between those exchanges, the Apollo 18’s earnest, All-American crew, pilot John Grey (Ryan Robbins) and lunar explorers Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), engage in vague banter about families left behind and the official lies they were required to tell to keep their mission from the world. After touching down on the Moon, Anderson and Walker get to work gathering some rocks and setting up camera equipment for the military. It is through these lenses that evidence emerges of something alien and sinister—and perhaps not entirely unknown—waiting for us on the Moon’s surface.

As in Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and many other recent thrillers, the grainy gaze of “real” cameras is essential to this story. Director Gonzalo López-Gallego uses the now-traditional shaky camera work to disorient the audience and long, uninterrupted static shots to funnel and misdirect their attention for maximum “boo” effect. He overuses some effects, though, and Apollo 18 often suffers from “artifact” overload—a barrage of random noises, static and audio interference, overexposures, film breaks and jump cuts, meant to keep the audience on its toes that, in fact, becomes increasingly intrusive and annoying.

In general, supernatural thrillers aren’t my cup of tea, but I’ll admit that Apollo 18 worked pretty well on me—I felt the tension as it mounted and was genuinely spooked when I was supposed to be. This can’t hope to be a game changer in the vein of Blair Witch or Jaws or The Exorcist—since going to the moon isn’t quite as common a human experience as going camping or swimming or taking a shortcut in Georgetown. But with technical adeptness and a pretty interesting concept (if I do say so my six-year-old self), it succeeds despite, or perhaps because of, its claustrophobic scale.

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