By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
When it comes to sci-fi chillers, Alien — one of the scariest movies ever made — is the standard. The movie that reminded us that “In space no one can hear you scream” had us squirming in our seats and clawing the armrests.
So any science fiction horror thriller that can provide even a fraction of the shivers that Alien produced is a movie to reckon with.
Such is the case with Apollo 18, modest and gimmicky as it is.
An alarming lunar landing looms large in this science fiction adventure that offers a few echoes of Alien (although it is light-years removed artistically from that classic), and that manages to not only startle but frighten.
In the manner of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity flicks and The Last Exorcism, Apollo 18 is a fake-found-footage horror thriller.
That is, it’s purportedly a Para-lunar Activity documentary about the final moon landing, conducted surreptitiously by NASA in 1974, offered as an explanation of why we as a nation have stopped going to the moon.
The reason, of course, is because of what’s up there. (NASA has already released statements to remind the public that the film is most definitely not in any way a documentary.)
The mission of the three astronauts aboard — broad-stroke characters played by Lloyd Owen, Warren Christie, and Ryan Robbins — the first two of whom actually land on the lunar surface, is to plant an antimissile defense system for the Department of Defense (which instructed them to lie to their families about just what they are doing) before the Russians can.
What they find, however, is a damaged Russian space capsule and the corpse of a cosmonaut who did not die of old age.
Not to mention the distinct feeling that they are not alone and that there are mysterious footprints on the moon’s surface.
Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, working from a screenplay by Brian Miller, tries to build a sense of paranoia, dread and menace with his slow build and extensive faux-actuality footage, but his quick cutting and jittery editing rhythms sometimes work against the plausibility of the conspiracy-theory premise.
The fear-of-the-unknown-exploiting narrative, however, works effectively, as do the refreshingly less-is-more creature effects. True, the director does squander, with all that lunar-surface archival footage, some of what should be nervously claustrophobic passages from a point-of-view inside the capsule worrying about what’s outside it.
But the film still manages to get under our skin — and, by the way, hold that thought.
So we’ll land on 2½ stars out of 4 for a spooky, visceral space-set fake-u-mentary. Within its own orbit, the nightmarish astronaut adventure, Apollo 18, has a decent amount of the right stuff.