The makers of Apollo 18 want you to believe that the film consists exclusively of video material suddenly uploaded to a website nearly forty years after the events occurred, and it’s worth mentioning that their absolute insistence on trying to maintain that visual conceit is both the most, and the only, interesting thing about it.
In the 1970s, three astronauts land on the moon in order to deliver a payload for the Department of Defense, a governmental agency that refuses to reveal to NASA the nature of the package they are supposed to leave. Before long there are unexpected communications problems, and a stroll on the lunar surface results in the crew discovering an abandoned Russian spaceship that, though still functioning, has had its interior badly damaged. Oh, and there’s a bloody cosmonaut spacesuit on the floor. Eventually the team leader has something crawl into his space suit that causes a really ugly injury across his abdomen -- something has been implanted inside the man -- and soon enough he’s suffering from an acute case of space madness. Now the rest of the crew struggles against this unknowable force, and gets surprisingly little help from the powers back home.
Apollo 18 wants to continue the modern tradition of the "found footage" horror film – a subgenre that gained prominence with the success of The Blair Witch Project, which predates this film by over a decade. And to director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s credit, the low-tech look of the film is certainly unique -- he captures the feel of ’70s hand-held cameras with an insistence that is admirable. The problem is that the script doesn’t supplement this style with anything compelling for us to respond to.
The film runs around 85 minutes, and it feels like at least a third of that goes by before anything interesting happens, and then when it does, the strict visual scheme of the film prevents you from seeing exactly what’s going on. It’s always smart to slowly increase the terror by gradually giving an audience more and more of whatever evil force threatens the heroes, but in this instance, the shaky camera and washed-out images keep us from ever getting a real handle on what’s happening, so we just get frustrated instead of absorbed.
At the very end there’s a suggestion of a bigger story that could be told, an indication why these three men were sent on this mission. That suggestion would make a natural sequel, and it’s enough to make you wish Apollo 18 were better so that they might get the chance to make it.