The Last Exorcism bucked the traditional formula for found footage films and in doing so stood out from the crowd of by the numbers horror films. Apollo 18 attempts to follow in its footsteps, stepping even further outside the box by heading to space.
Set during a “secret” mission to the moon, Apollo 18 is the “true” story revealing why NASA canceled the Apollo space program and never returned to the moon. However a film can have all the interesting premises and settings it wants but the success of found footage films rests with its execution in making the audience believe what they are watching is real.
Apollo 18’s execution is a mixed bag. The cinematography, sound, set designs and acting are all top notch and aside from the obvious horror bits, the film looks like an authentic piece of NASA captured footage. Unfortunately, like all found footage films it suffers from a few issues that take away from the overall experience.
The most glaring issue is the fact the ending is known to the audience before they even sit down in the theater. Found footage films by their very nature have a tragic ending, otherwise the footage wouldn’t have been found. This fact unfortunately creates a natural countermeasure to the tension the film attempts to build. Many of these types of films rely on jump scares to create the illusion of tension and Apollo 18 does the same but it doesn’t quite work as well.
Fingers could be pointed in a variety of directions in an attempt to pinpoint why Apollo 18’s scares fail to impress but the key reason is because of the setting. Space being foreign to nearly everyone is inherently a scary place but found footage films rely on familiarity to create tension and scares. Cabinets opening on their own, shadows moving where they shouldn’t be, and little girls who can bend into inhuman shapes are scary because the viewer has a baseline for what is normal. Apollo 18 does not have that baseline and it suffers because of it.
The setting also causes another issue for the film, one of plausibility. The core premise of these films is that someone filmed the events and the footage was “found” by someone else who then edited it into a film and released it to theaters. While it may be a stretch that those events would occur, it is at least somewhat plausible. Apollo 18 asks viewers to buy into the fact that not only did the events on film take place, someone not named NASA retrieved the footage from space, spliced it together and released it. And that is a bit of a stretch, even for horror fans.
3 out of 5