An Underestimated Nightmare
Apollo 18 came out during a found footage horror renaissance in 2011. With many critics comparing it to a wannabe Paranormal Activity, the Dimension Films sci-fi was unfortunately slammed. However, Apollo 18 is arguably one of the most frightening space movies of the 21st century so far. After all, who else is daring enough to begin a movie claiming that NASA had a classified, failed moon mission? Given the complex nature of the public’s knowledge of the American government, we most likely don’t know everything about past moon missions.
In true based-on-actual-events fashion, Apollo 18 begins with a chilling premise: two astronauts were sent to the moon following the last known mission, Apollo 17, by the U.S. Department of Defense. The moments shown are labeled as “actual footage” taken by the two crew members, yet NASA denies its authenticity. Since then, we’ve never gone back to the moon.
In 1974, Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Captain Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) touch down on the South Pole of the moon while Lieutenant John Grey (Ryan Robbins) remains in orbit above them. As Ben and Nate collect samples and explore the moon’s surface, strange occurrences unfold. From moving rocks to unexplained human footprints, the two quickly find themselves in a frightening situation more than 200,000 miles away from earth in the one place where no other human can hear a scream: space.
Clearly, NASA did not cover up a failed mission about space aliens and endangered astronauts. However, the cast and crew kept the momentum going to promote the film, claiming that this really was found footage and not a Hollywood-ized project. In other words, they really embraced the world of their story.
Apollo 18 succeeds in offering several jump scares and also slow, eerie build-ups — the perfect mix for a movie. And to top it all off, zero gravity allows even more leeway in jolting an audience; having zero control over your surroundings is the ultimate fear.
From Nate abruptly getting dragged into a crater to the alarming moment when he realizes “something is inside [his] suit,” the thriller thrives on abrupt chills. And, of course, the unexplainable moving rocks create a crawl-worthy experience for the audience. However, the editing was Apollo 18’s strongest weapon because without it, some horror fans wouldn’t be afraid. They might think about the weird, funny crawling rocks in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which would be a failure for a space horror flick. But Apollo 18 uses quick cuts and takes to provide that sense of an unseen aftermath — where did the moving rock just go? Is it watching them sleep? How many more are there? All of these questions quickly flood a viewer’s mind, and they’re forced to catch up with the movie once the next short scene begins.
We’re not only watching a jumping, jittery story, though; we’re watching something that looks uncomfortably real (for at least most of the film). Found footage offers a sense of realism. Sure, other horrors with high-resolution cameras are scary, but a realistic, old film approach stays with viewers long after the story ends.
This type of film creates a new dimension for audiences to be in, and this frightens them even more. We’re watching two people travel to space for a mission — something several Americans had done before them. And that 1970s dim-light camera effect adds another layer of realism; audiences settle into the familiarity of fuzzy old-school filming, so it frightens them even more when something grotesque or mysterious suddenly happens right before their eyes.
While the cast is undeniably great, the beauty of this film is that almost anyone can skillfully portray these characters in this situation. And that can only be attributed to its found footage nature. Nevertheless, Owen’s approach to playing Nate is definitely effective. The slow decline of his health is frightfully conveyed, especially in one scene outside of the LK module; it might be too late for Nate, and Owen confidently taps into this challenge. As for Christie, the audience can easily feel his desperation. His need to escape is tangible for viewers, as we root for him to somehow get back home.
Despite the negative reputation it holds, Apollo 18 just hit screens at a time when found footage was trending. It was severely underestimated and deserves a second watch. But if it’s your first time watching, prepare for a real thrill. You’ll be taken into the lunar module “Liberty” with Ben and Nate, completely vulnerable to any quick, sharp changes. It’s a ride that heightens every human’s fear of the darkness that space holds. But, moreover, Apollo 18 will nudge you to question what exactly happened on every past Apollo mission. Do we really know everything there is to know?
Apollo 18 (2011) Official Trailer
|Elisabeth joined Dead Talk News in 2022 and loves movies and TV! After working for various sites, including Screen Rant and Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Elisabeth joined DTN to critique and review various movies, from horror flicks to Disney live-actions.|