CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: APOLLO 18
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: The crater-strewn surface of the moon. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES are dressed in space suits, waving to the audience. We hear their voices over radio transmitters)
MA: We sure are having fun here on the moon.
LS: Why are you lying to the people? I hate it here.
MA: Because, we’re supposed to be upbeat and cheerful. That’s what NASA told us to say. They only want good PR.
LS: Oh my God, something’s inside my suit. AAAARGH! (Lurches over screaming)
MA: What’s wrong? What’s wrong!! Are you okay?
LS: Haha. I was just screwin’ with you. There’s nothing in my suit.
MA: Well, I’m not screwin with you. There IS something in your suit. Look!
(A creature resembling a squid/spider hybrid scurries across LS’s face inside his space helmet. LS opens his eyes wide. Then he opens his mouth and eats it.)
LS: That’s just my snack. Packed it this morning. (LS sucks in a dangling tentacle and licks his lips.) Tasty. Just like raw oysters, but with lots of legs. Want to try one?
MA: No. I’ll pass.
LS: You don’t know what you’re missing!
MA: I have a pretty good idea. Hey, how about we start our review of APOLLO 18?
LS: Might as well. I sure am bored up here on the moon. (Looks over the expanse of the moon’s surface). It sure is desolate up here. I hope we can go home soon.
MA: After the review.
LS: Okay. Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect from APOLLO 18. It had been scheduled for five different release dates over the last year and kept getting pushed back. This kind of thing is usually a bad sign—the studio is hesitant to actually release the film. But I didn’t think it was half bad. At least it finally—thankfully—came out. I was just getting sick of seeing the trailer forever.
MA: At least it was a good trailer. It was one of the main reasons I was looking forward to this movie. It was an effective teaser that caught my interest.
LS: Yeah, but after a gazillion weeks, it gets sickening.
As anyone who has seen the trailer for this one can tell you, APOLLO 18 is the latest movie to use the old BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) fake documentary style. It’s funny how that little movie has had such a big influence on horror cinema. And no matter how many times I complain about this, I’d say the majority of films we have seen using this style have been pretty good. It’s a cheap, easy way to make a scary movie. It doesn’t even have to have good production values. Someday a race of aliens is going to discover our culture and wonder what was wrong with us – the more advanced we get, the worse quality some of our movies look.
MA: I agree. This style works really well. It’s an effective way to induce scares, mostly because it creates a sense of panic—oh my God it’s happening right now! —and it makes the story seem real. Plus, you know that when bad things start happening, you don’t have the luxury of being able to escape to another character’s perspective. No switching to the character’s wife worrying in her home or to the detective who’s putting the clues together to save the day. You know you’re stuck with the guy holding the camera, and when things happen to him, there’s no getting away from it. It really does add to the intensity of the thrills.
LS: Anyway, this one is a bit more clever in the cinematography department, because it actually tries to replicate the look of old, lost NASA footage from Kennedy era. This means some of it can look bad, but a lot of it has to look dated and believable. And it works here. Like the footage of the astronauts being interviewed before the launch. It looks like faded film stock from the 60s. I thought some of this stuff was very cool.
MA: Yep, the cinematography here was very good. But I didn’t find these scenes all that interesting, other than from the technical standpoint you just mentioned. The three astronauts we’re introduced to are rather dull fellows.
LS: So the plot revolves around the idea that there was a manned mission to the moon in the early 1970s that we’ve never heard about, because something went wrong and NASA covered it up. I don’t know how good this idea is. I mean, it fuels the rest of the movie, but back then a moon launch involved a giant rocket blasting off into space with lots of flames and smoke and I think that kind of thing would be hard to hide. Wouldn’t someone in the media see that they were launching a rocket? It’s not a little thing that can be done secretly.
MA: Pay no attention to that giant fireball in the sky! It’s just a weather balloon. Yeah, a weather balloon, that’s it! Yeah, I’m not sure I buy into the secret launch thing either, and I never quite understood fully what their mission was in the first place. It has to do with spying on the Russians, but it’s unclear—anyway, I may be getting ahead of you. Please, continue.
LS: Gee, thanks. Mighty kind of you. Here have a snack.
(LS tosses a squid/spider creature at MA that hits him in the helmet. It sticks there for a moment before MA raises a can of Raid and sprays the creature which shrivels and falls to the ground.
LS (shaking his head): Stop wasting food! There are starving alien children on Andromeda who are going hungry!
MA: I’ll write a check in the morning.
LS: Oh well, so they do this secret launch and one guy stays in a segment orbiting the moon while two other astronauts, Ben (Warren Christie) and Nate (Lloyd Owen) take the lunar module down to the moon’s surface. Just like other missions, there’s lots of slow motion walking around, planting an American flag in the moon’s crust, and the collection of moon rocks.
MA: Not particularly compelling stuff, but the good news is we get it out of the way rather quickly, and it doesn’t take too long for the good stuff to start happening.
LS: They’re not really sure why they’re on this particular mission, since it doesn’t seem different from previous ones. But then, things start going wrong.
It begins when they find a Russian module abandoned on the other side of a crater. First off, the Russians weren’t supposed to have made it to the moon, and the astronauts are surprised NASA didn’t tell them about this beforehand. Then they find the body of a cosmonaut in one of the craters. His helmet is cracked and removed, and the face of his corpse looks horrified.
MA: That’s a great scene!
LS: Then again, you’d be horrified too if you suddenly realized there was no air to breathe! It doesn’t look like an accident though – the helmet looks forcibly damaged, and the guys wonder what’s going on here. There’s no sign of a second cosmonaut (is there one?) and their craft looks like someone trashed it, pulling out wires and smashing stuff – although the computers still work and it appears to have plenty of oxygen and fuel to get home.
So what happened?
Not long after this, Nate is outside the module alone, and starts screaming that something is in his suit. We see a glimpse of something moving around inside his helmet, and he collapses. Ben brings him inside and provides first aid. Nate has a big gash in his side and as the wound slowly gets infected, Nate begins to deteriorate, getting sicker and sicker and acting kinda crazy. Ben has no idea what to do. He also has no idea what’s going on, and has no clue if he is in danger as well.
Things just get more and more tense after this.
APOLLO 18, directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, does a good job of ratcheting up the suspense. The movie starts off slow once they get to the moon and the mission goes as planned, but once things start to go wrong, the movie is very suspenseful as you sit on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next.
MA: I agree. Lopez-Gallego does a nice job here. The film really does make you feel ill at ease and uncomfortable.
LS: The acting is good, the way it’s filmed actually adds to the whole experience because just when you might discover an answer, the camera will shut down, or you’ll just get a glimpse of something quickly and not be sure what you saw. A big plus is the location as well. They’re on the moon, so they have to move around in bulky slow-moving suits. But when they’re actually out of the suits and free to move around, they are in a very confined space. The claustrophobic aspect of the film really adds to the tension.
I liked APOLLO 18 until we started to get real answers. Once we find out what the threat is, I thought it was ludicrous. It just made no sense at all (Especially since previous moon missions had been uneventful—why would that suddenly change?). Any good things about the movie almost evaporated when we discover what the secret is. I think that is the weakest part of the otherwise good script by Brian Miller.
MA: I didn’t like the secret either, mostly because it’s explained so briefly. I was like, that’s it? It has to be better than that!
I didn’t find the script all that smart. While I love the concept of this movie, it didn’t win me over completely, and a large part of its not winning me over was the script. The story isn’t as sharp or clear as it needs to be, and I thought the characters, the three astronauts, weren’t all that interesting.
Like you said, the acting was certainly good. That’s not a problem. I liked Warren Christie as Ben, and Lloyd Owen as Nate, and Ryan Robbins as the third astronaut, while he’s not in it as much as the other two, isn’t bad either.
In terms of generating scares and making you squirm, APOLLO 18 works, and by far, this is the best part of the movie. You really will feel uncomfortable, and I had fun with this. But like you said, when the story begins to provide answers, they’re not satisfactory, and the film falters here somewhat.
But early on it’s extremely creepy and satisfying. When they discover a rock sample on the floor of their ship, and they know it shouldn’t be there, it’s a really creepy moment because they know that if they didn’t put it there, there’s no one else around who could have done it.
I loved the scene inside the dark crater, although I did wonder why the astronaut couldn’t use a simple flashlight to light the darkness rather than the light he was using—something akin to a flash on a camera. Yeah, it made for a scary scene, but I’m not sure how much sense it makes.
I really liked the moon creatures in this one. They were unnerving and scary, especially if you don’t like bugs and other creepy crawly things, and the whole concept of what these creatures were, was clever and creative.
And while I liked the idea of the creatures getting inside the astronaut’s body, well, this is hardly original. ALIEN, anyone? Sure, it’s not the same exact concept, but it’s close enough.
LS: Yeah, something like ALIEN (1979) kind of makes APOLLO 18 look pretty crappy in comparison.
MA: I also thought the sense of isolation was present throughout this movie—especially when the two astronauts lose contact with NASA— and it really added to the frights.
LS: By the time the movie ended, I had really mixed feelings about it. There was a lot I really liked about APOLLO 18. But there were other things I hated. So over all, I give it two and a half knives. It would have rated higher if the “secret” didn’t annoy me so much. But there was some good suspense. Maybe wait for cable or Netflix on this one.
MA: I loved the concept of this movie, and it’s one of the reasons I also loved the trailer. It’s a great idea, finding long lost footage of a secret moon mission filled with mystery and strange creatures, but it’s a mystery that falls short and never becomes the compelling plot point it needs to be to lift this film to classic status.
It’s creepy, don’t get me wrong, and I had fun being on the edge of my seat, but the story and characters are just OK, and as a result, this film never does deliver a knockout punch. I’m giving it two and a half knives, too.
So, that wraps things up. We can go home now. What’s the matter? You don’t look so good.
LS (looking a little pale): I think I ate one too many moon snacks.
MA: Well, there’s a portable moon bathroom over there.
LS: I’m not going in there. You ever use one of those intergalactic public bathrooms?
MA: No, I can’t say that I have.
LS: PREDATORS may be superior hunters, but when it comes to aiming inside the bowl, they suck.
MA: That’s more information than I need to know, and on that note, let’s say so long and head back to Earth. Are you up for the trip?
LS: Hell, yeah. I’ll just take some medicine.
MA: Medicine? I’m glad you thought ahead. We’re pretty isolated up here.
LS (pops open a beer): For medicinal purposes, of course. Down one of these every four hours.
(LS pops open the glass of his helmet and sucks down the beer. Then he wipes his mouth with his sleeve, burps, and tosses the empty can in a crater)
LS: I feel better already!
MA: Okay folks, thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next week back on earth, with a review of another new movie.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives APOLLO 18 ~ two and a half knives!
LL Soares gives APOLLO 18 ~two and a half knives, too.