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.
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...
Producer 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.