Movie Review: Apollo 18

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

When NASA’s Apollo 17, the eleventh and final manned mission in the American Apollo space programme, blasted off in December 1972, few could have suspected that this would be the last time Man would set foot on the moon (to date). The cost of mounting manned moonflights and growing public disinterest in the project combined to bring the Space Age to a premature, if temporary, end. Or did it? What if there was a secret Apollo 18 mission, one the public didn’t know about, a trio of astronauts sent to the Moon for a very specific reason, to investigate a very specific mystery?

 This is Apollo 18, the latest in what’s become known as the ‘found footage’ genre of film-making, movies which purport to tell ‘true stories’ by way of hastily-edited real life grainy footage shot by the people who were there and who saw it all happen. The lineage of these sorts of films is fairly short, stretching back to The Blair Witch Project but it’s an efficiently-reusable conceit which allows film-makers to turn out credible shockers on a relatively low budget, the recent Paranormal Activity franchise being the best of the most recent examples. Apollo 18 takes us right back to Blair Witch territory as our heroes (three fictional astronauts played by actors you think you recognise but don’t really know) travel to the Moon and two of them (played by Lloyd Owen, son of late Welsh actor Glyn Owen and Warren Christie who is very probably also someone's son) land in the sort of lunar module those of us old enough to remember the Apollo missions will fondly recall. But almost immediately weird things begin to happen. Strange noises over the intercom, lunar rocks which seem to move of their own accord. Voyaging outside in their chunky spacesuits the two astronauts discover a series of footsteps and eventually stumble upon an abandoned Russian lunar module and in a nearby chasm one of them discovers something much more unpleasant… and he inadvertently takes it back to their own lunar module.

Maybe it’s because we’ve seen this sort of stuff before that Apollo 18 doesn’t have quite the impact it might have hoped for. The lunar setting and the relatively primitive 1970s technology the characters are lumbered with gives the film a stifling claustrophobia - these guys are a quarter of a million miles away from home and they’re on their own - but we’ve heard weird noises too many times before and the film only really starts to become disturbing when we see the first of our fleeting glimpses of the spidery alien which scuttles around the inside of astronaut Walker’s space helmet. Later on the film treads even more familiar territory, evoking Alien as Anderson (Christie) gouges something nasty out of Walker’s (Owen) chest but is unable to stop the veiny infection which creeps across Walker’s body and eventually turns him into a raving space-zombie. Sort of.

There’s tension here, there’s the odd shock but, for the sake of dramatic effect, the film throws its believability away by conveniently forgetting about the airlessness of the Moon (the pop of flashing camera bulbs punctuates one moonwalk sequence) but finds its feet again in the tense final reel as the surviving astronaut re-establishes contact with the command module and, despite being told by his superiors back at Mission Control that they can’t risk rescuing him because of ‘infection’, tries to effect a rendezvous by using the Russian lunar module.

Unlike Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, both of which made some attempt to provide a bit of backstory for the shenanigans they were depicting, Apollo 18 tantalises us by what it doesn’t tell us. What are these aliens, how did they come to be on the Moon, how did the human race find out they were there? And, considering the way the film ends, how the Hell did this footage make its way back to Earth? Some may find these unanswered questions infuriating but I’m happy to live in ignorance because I’ve a sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere is working on the sequel that the film’s ending seems to be hinting at…

Don’t be put off if you saw and enjoyed Apollo 13 but are worried because you missed the next four films in the franchise (honestly, there are people out there…), Apollo 18 has enough low-fi thrills to pleasantly while away 85 or so minutes. Just don’t expect  the Moon to move  for you…

Expecting rating: 6 out of 10

Actual rating:

Apollo 18 is out now

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