April 06, 2012

APOLLO 18 (2011) - found footage from outer space

(2011, USA/Canada)

Effective scares, scary effects, but a familiar story...

I've not gone after many 'found footage' horror movies because I baulked at cheap video formats being used to shoot feature films. But though this is relatively low budget, Apollo 18 challenges itself by presenting the whole story as if filmed on the various formats available to a NASA Moon mission 40 years ago - early video recording, small film formats, large photo formats, long-range satellite video transmissions.

Aged 8, I was hustled out of bed early one school morning to watch Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon live on TV via a blurry black-and-white video link. The idea that two people could travel so far to an airless rock was exciting enough. Apollo 18 compounds the dangers they faced with a new threat...

Like Apollos 11 to 17, a three-man crew reaches Moon orbit, then two astronauts descend to the surface in a detachable landing vehicle. Their mission is simple: deploy a few experiments, pick up a few rock samples and take some photos. Onboard video cameras watch the crew (their picture's a too clear for video from the 1970s) and they also take film cameras out on their 'Moonwalks'. Cutting between these, time-lapse photography and external surveillance videos keeps the mood unsettling.

Not knowing anything about the story, I was in a considerable amount of suspense from not knowing where any threat was going to come from. The uncanny-looking footage, cleverly integrated with actual NASA archives, is really impressive. The jumpy scares repeatedly worked on me after a steady build-up, hugely aided by the eerie sound effects and complete lack of music.

It helped that I wasn't expecting a big flashy movie. This is a carefully claustrophobic ghost story, reminiscently small-scale to 'The Invisible Enemy' episode of The Outer Limits, but with a very different story. This could also make a good companion piece to Moon, with its small cast and isolated location.

After a few effective reveals, I felt that the writers could have gone a little further with their premise to give us a totally original story. Falling back on familiar imagery lessened the final impression and made the big pay-offs too predictable. Plus there's a huge plot-hole left unanswered. But the build-up is very enjoyable and almost all the visual effects are really convincing - fascinating to watch if you're a fan of the original Moon mission footage.
But I certainly wasn't expecting so many echoes of Thunderbirds Are Go...

Timur Bekmambetov is the most familiar name on the project, also the director of the dark Russian vampire fantasy Night Watch (2004), the Angelina Jolie assassination bureau Wanted (2008) and the forthcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I watched this on Blu-ray and it looked and sounded... scary!


  1. You're right. There were plenty of shocking moments in this flick. I wanted to like it, but the build-up just fell flat after the reveal. Worth watching though.
    - Maurice Mitchell
    The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
    @thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

  2. So the moon landing was early in the morning UK time? I seem to recall my school setting up some sort of projection system (or maybe TV's just seemed bigger to a 6-year old back then) to watch it, so I thought it was either late morning or afternoon. Hmmm...am I confusing it with something else?

  3. 2.56 UTC, (Coordinated Universal Time) which I think is approx the same as GMT. Very, very early in the morning!

  4. Glad I'm not alone in liking this one, I gave it a very positive review. Quite effective and well shot on such a small budget.

  5. actually, this very interesting article explains why the picture quality is quite realistic, even for a 70s mission:


    It makes sense that the space crews would have access to much better quality cameras than the public. But this movie is still absolute junk.

  6. It was a great movie and i'm glad i saw it because all of my friends said this movie is waste of time. sometimes you need to listen to yourself as i learned.
    Great review by the way.

  7. I didn't bother with seeing this because 'EVERY' review I read said it was just horrible!,and dumb.just another found footage type film I've heard..but I might get it now because of the positive comments here.

  8. I'm at odds with many reviewers because I liked this and really didn't enjoy EUROPA REPORT

  9. Mark,I will get this..I saw it as being on a 4 film dvd pack somewhere.I heard 'Europa Report' was awful.I saw one film a while back called 'Moon' a while back that I kind of liked..with Sam Rockwell.