“Apollo 18” revolves around the premise that Apollo 17 was not our final lunar mission. A highly classified 18th Apollo mission landed on the moon and secretly conducted a mission for the Department of Defense. Now, decades later, 80+ hours of footage have been “leaked” onto the internet, and the filmmakers distilled that raw footage into this film.
Of course, once the astronauts land, they discover that they are not alone.
The movie does a good job of establishing the mission, showing home movies of the off duty astronauts swilling beer, having a barbecue, and sporting crew cuts. The obligatory interviews with the crew pre-launch are included, and the reason for the mission is established. The crew is going to place advanced monitoring equipment on the moon in order to track Soviet activities (this is still during the height of the Cold War).
After they’ve landed and begun their assignments, however, strange things begin to occur. Their radio transmissions are experiencing interference, their power fluctuates, and eventually they come across an abandoned Russian lunar lander. The Russians, apparently, have also landed on the moon. But as they track the cosmonauts footprints, they soon discover that the Russians are the least of their worries.
Director Gonzalo López-Gallego does a good job of establishing the claustrophobic atmosphere and dangers inherent in landing on the moon. A simple thing like a misplaced step could result in death. He also does a good job of slowly escalating the tension as things go from things being slightly off kilter to full-out life threatening. There are some pretty tense moments and a handful of jump scares scattered throughout. The actors do fine in their respective parts as well.
The main problems I have with the film are twofold.
While the movie was enjoyable enough, it never really wound up rising beyond the premise. None of the “Payoff” portion of the movie is all that memorable. There’s a couple of cool shots, and some elements here and there that are pretty cool, but all in all, there’s nothing that memorable about it above and beyond what we knew going in. Once the card is pulled out of its sleeve, it turns out it’s like the ten of clubs. It’s not even a face card.
But the biggest issue, BY FAR is the “footage” concept. Now, up til now, I’ve never complained about this style of film. I’m a big fan of “The Blair Witch Project”, and I like “Cloverfield” as well. Those are the two most notable examples I can think of at the moment. I’ve never really experienced the inability to watch the film that so many detractors complained about with those movies. This time, however, not only are they employing hand-held cameras for much of it, but the filmmakers are mimicking old film stock, along with transmission, sound and power issues. So it’s not only full of shaky, spinning hand held camera moments, it’s also grainy, cuts in and out, has static… it’s literally unwatchable at times. I found it to be an extreme distraction.
This was a movie that didn’t have all that much meat on its bones to begin with, so it never really could have risen higher than say, a B+, but it certainly would have been a lot better if it employed traditional filmmaking style and utilized a background score to support the action.