Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 42: Apollo 18

{Looking back at Earth from the Moon} "Take a look at that. Really makes you think, doesn't it?"

Think about what, asshole? God damnit, this movie is an affront to all of my tastes and senses, most prominently my common sense. In the last five years, the found-footage horror movie has moved from an intriguing concept every couple of years to becoming a full on sub-genre. The success of the Paranormal Activity films, The Last Exorcism, and even this past weekend's $30 million-plus grossing The Devil Inside has made studio executives cream in their jeans over the prospect of giving some tech-savvy kids a million bucks and letting them make a movie that will turn them an instant profit.

Don't get me wrong, I much prefer the slow-building suspenseful horror sensibilities that these films are infused with to the torture porn genre that exploded after the surprise success of the Saw franchise, but just as all movements within a genre as vast as horror is, there are good ways to go about these films and bad ways.

Apollo 18 seems promising enough as a premise. In the early 70s, NASA declares that Apollo 17 will be the last mission to the moon, but in a top-secret venture with the Department of Defense, they round up the astronauts that were going to be the crew for the next trip and tell them that their mission is back on. An opening scroll tells us that in 2011, footage from this "last" mission to the moon turned up on a website called (it's now defunct, so don't waste your time) and that the film we're about to watch was edited from that footage. Simple enough premise, it's got some promising elements to it, but it goes in the toilet almost immediately.

The biggest issue is that the film refuses to sit still for even a minute. The filmmakers seem to think that the key to suspense is constantly cutting to another angle or another shot. There must be over a thousand cuts in this 75 minute movie. It's incredibly frustrating, and there's nothing scary about it. It's not even realistic. If you're supposedly dealing with NASA camera footage, it would probably be a ton of static shots and moving something in the frame of a shot that's been static for a number of seconds is much scarier than constantly jumping from shot to shot to shot. But nevermind about that, that's not even the biggest issue this film has.

First of all, what is it with astronauts and fucking barbecues? Is there a bigger cliche than that for a movie about astronauts? Apparently if you're not training, you're just hanging out in your backyard barbecuing burgers. But whatever, yeah, they're trying to establish the characters and make you care about them I suppose, but am I supposed to give a shit about these guys just because they're friends?

The thing that made the grandfather of these movies, The Blair Witch Project, so effective is that all of it's time was spent with the characters and the almost immediate tension between them. We're made to feel like we're there with them, we choose up sides and think about what we would do were we in that situation ourselves. Very few of us can relate to astronauts. I say that not to be mean, but this is not a situation any of us would find ourselves in, so there's no visceral investment in their predicament.

So anyway, they go into space, go to the moon and two of the three take a lunar lander down to the moon's surface for some exploring and flag placing. Once there, they discover an abandoned Russian lander. One thing leads to another and they find a dead Russian cosmonaut. By the way, if I never hear the word cosmonaut again, I'll die a happy man, but I digress. They have some issues trying to get back to the ship and their rover and lander are destroyed by "something." There's a bunch of gobbledygook about them losing communication with NASA and the other guy still orbiting the moon, and the two dudes on the moon appear to be left there to die.

Okay, so the big surprise is that the rocks on the moon are really spiders of some sort that are attacking them. They essentially possess the one astronaut, I think, turning him into a monster, I think. Who fucking knows? Rock spiders? ROCK SPIDERS? It would have been more believable if they had gotten to the moon and discovered it was made out of cheese. That would have been easier for me to buy. Rock spiders? Don't insult your audience by asking them to believe in something entirely implausible in the year 2011. They might as well have had dragons and shit too while they were at it. Why stop at rock spiders?

All 3 astronauts are killed, I honestly don't even remember how the dude in orbit died, I think he crashed the ship into the moon trying to rescue the other guys. I stopped paying attention. Okay, I admit it, I fell asleep. Thankfully the film's oppressive sound design kept jolting me awake with it's constant attempts at jump scares. I was checked out from about the two minute mark on, so I can't say for sure, but NASA covered it up and these brave filmmakers found the footage, edited it, and released it in theaters.

How did this footage turn up? It's not like there was a live feed back to Earth. Who found this footage? The rock spiders? Then there was a scroll at the end about how moon rocks had been brought back from all the Apollo missions and given as gifts and now they're all missing. Fuck you! Don't try and justify your shitty science by saying something ridiculous at the end in an attempt to lend your film an air of credibility.

Don't go anywhere near this thing. It's not fun, it's not so bad it's good, it's just fucking dumb. It's a dumb movie made by dumb people. All the pseudo-science in the world can stop the film from being a lifeless turd on screen. For as we all know, in space, no one can hear you stop giving a shit.

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