Dubbed as "PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in space", Spanish director Gonzalo López-Gallego's first English-language feature, APOLLO 18, is a typical found-footage genre thriller with a refreshing premise that has lots of potential. No doubt it has few notable chills to look for, except that the movie suffers from thinly-drawn characters, half-cooked plot and some questionable choice of direction here. More on that later.
At the beginning of the disclaimer, we learn that NASA has unearthed the top-secret found footage of a previously-canceled Apollo 18 mission, which is edited into desired length. In December 1974, NASA has enlisted three astronauts: Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Ryan Robbins) and Captain Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) on a mission towards the moon. Once there, John is in charge to pilot the orbiter aboard Freedom at the stationed command post, while Nathan and Benjamin are in charge to conduct two-day research at the moon's surface in the lunar module Liberty. During further exploration, they discover strange footprints that lead them to an abandoned Soviet LK proton lander nearby. The lander is apparently functional, except that there are traces of blood staining everywhere. Things get worse when they are shocked to discover the corpse of a cosmonaut lurking somewhere in a dark crater. They suspect something very bad is going on. What could it be?
Despite its compact 86-minute length, APOLLO 18 is admittedly a slow-burn cinematic experience but the good thing is, Gallego and his screenwriters Cory Goodman and Brian Miller manage to keep things moving in a fairly brisk pace, especially once the tension begins to cook up the surface. As mentioned earlier, there are number of suspenseful moments to keep the viewers on the edge of their seat -- among them is the eventual discovery of the corpse of a cosmonaut in a dark crater.
As for the unknown casts, two particular actors -- Lloyd Owen and Warren Christie give some effectively chilling performances as highly-frustrated astronauts on the verge of madness. They have acting credibility destined for the next big thing, but it's a shame that the screenplay doesn't give them much to flesh out their characters with more humane approach.
Some good things aside, APOLLO 18 is also a heavily flawed movie. Gallego's direction is haphazard, especially the way he and his cinematographer Jose David Montero choose to abuse the found-footage filmmaking style in a constantly annoying manner. Actually it is okay to make the footage with shaky-cam approach but too many of them are side-splitting headache, causing most of the thrilling scenes hard to make up what's going on at all. Uh... ever heard of framed and steady shots? Who says shooting documentary has to be shaky the whole time? Then there's the revelation of the going-on behind all the madness -- which is somewhat lackluster once you know what caused the particular fear of the unknown.
While APOLLO 18 is hardly the kind of burning sensation that made movies like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, CLOVERFIELD and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY so phenomenally popular in the first place, it remains a fairly recommendable effort worth watching for.