Monday 5 September 2011

Soft landing: "Apollo 18"

Apollo 18, a middling entry in the growing "found footage" subgenre, starts from the premise there was one last, fateful lunar mission after 1972's Apollo 17, recruiting a three-man crew to do some hush-hush dirty work on behalf of the US Defence Department. Everything you see in Gonzalo López-Gallego's film was allegedly uploaded to a website ( earlier this year - though the odd insert has clearly been sourced from actual NASA footage, lending the whole a certain patina of authenticity. (The film's ideal audience would presumably be anyone gullible enough to buy into those Capricorn One-era rumours that the first lunar landing was staged on a Hollywood soundstage.)

For all its novelty value, Apollo 18 proceeds in much the manner of any other horror movie set in an isolated location. The protagonists' first arrival cues a lot of excited bouncing around and planting of flags (with no women aboard, the hijinks are limited to a risque story one of the crew tells about a bowl of milk), then signs all is not entirely conducive to life here begin to emerge: rocks seem to move of their own accord, footsteps bigger than the astronauts' own are chanced upon, as is an abandoned Soviet landing craft that serves a similar narrative function to the mothership in Aliens. At around the same time, rather sizeable implausibilities become apparent. This mission appears to involve more cameras than the Big Brother compound, while the actors (who have the blandly handsome looks of real-life astronauts) are asked to move slowly to fake the effects of gravity.

Buy into it, and it's a reasonably fun conceit; if nothing else, it'll make you think how hard it must be to get to sleep on the Moon, even without the scuttle of killer hermit crabs. The conspiracy angle remains thin, as these post-Watergate 'nauts begin to distrust the official line coming over their radio - before said radio cuts out, Apollo 18's idea of solving the mobile-phone conundrum most contemporary-set horror features have to face eventually. Yet for much of it, there actually appears less at stake than there was in the drearily sincere Apollo 13 (where you knew the ending going in), in part because the characters never feel like anything other than stock figures in a gimmicky horror movie. It'll fill a multiplex screen without occasioning too many complaints from irate punters, but it's just not very scary, instead taking small, labouring steps towards a punchline that proves more amusing than chilling.

Apollo 18 is in cinemas nationwide.

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