I have to admit that, when I first saw the trailer for Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s entry into the found-footage horror genre, I bought the possibility that his picture might have the right stuff. A top secret moon mission. A terrifying discovery. Grainy footage of the whole thing shot by the astronauts themselves. What’s not to like?
Well, as it turns out, just about everything other than the film’s premise. For one thing, the director and first-time screenwriter Brian Miller take forever to get their story off the ground. The movie clocks in at less than an hour and a half and the only reason it’s even that long is the shameless amount of padding with which its creators frontload it.
In this case the launch isn’t delayed by bad weather or technical glitches but rather by a succession of superfluous touches: Faux documentary-style interviews with the clean cut crew (Ryan Robbins, Lloyd Owen and Warren Christie), footage of the men being briefed on and preparing for the mission and faded-color home movies of the astronauts and their families enjoying a beery backyard barbecue. It’s a bad sign when a filmmaker isn’t in a hurry to get to his good stuff.
Some time before the closing credits roll, however, we do lift off. The idea is it’s 1974 and the Apollo program has officially shut down due to budget reasons. NASA has unfinished business on the lunar surface, though, so the three men tell their wives they’re going on a routine training exercise but take off for the moon instead. The movie never explains how you launch a Saturn V rocket without anybody watching.
Once Owen and Christie touch down, we learn why the mission has been kept a secret. Well, we learn at any rate that the reason has something to do with the Russians. As with much of the movie, what’s actually happening as the guys go about their business is unclear due to a combination of confusing dialogue and an over-reliance on scratchy, jumpy video designed to recreate the look of the images beamed down to TVs during the real Apollo flights.
In the course of setting up Cold War antimissile systems or radar scanners or creemee stands––it’s hard to tell and hardly matters––the astronauts learn they are not alone. The moon rocks they collect start shape-shifting into lethally infectious spidery deals. One of the two is attacked and begins to show signs of madness while the other is disappointed when informed the government is thinking of leaving him there to prevent contamination back home.
If all this doesn’t sound terribly interesting or scary, that’s because it’s not. The verité stuff is humdrum because that’s the nature of work with lots of down time. Until its close encounter, the crew makes a lot of extremely small talk while cooped up in the capsule.
The horror stuff is consistently unsatisfying because we barely glimpse the little creatures thanks to all the shaky-cam nonsense––and because of all the story’s other nonsense. The movie never explains, for example, how a gaggle of sandcrab-size critters manages to overturn a large lunar rover. Or where these beasties were during the first seventeen Apollo missions. Or who’s shooting the footage when both astronauts are in the frame. Houston, we have a turkey.
The cast does a craftsman-like job but the meager material keeps it from bringing the characters to believable life. The cinematography is effective enough; the “classified” clips that make up this mockumentary certainly look like 70s NASA video but again Miller’s script provides scant good use to put them to. As for Lopez-Gallego, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Apollo 18 is his first English-language film. Maybe his talent was lost in translation.
The bottom line: In space no one can hear you ask for your money back.