One small step

Fun found footage from far side of the moon

Apollo 18
Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

One of the more interesting (and expensive) footnotes in American history was NASA’s brief flirtation with the moon. Six manned missions landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972, and then the program quietly went dark, ostensibly to shift funding to the nascent Skylab and space-shuttle programs. But was the reason behind the cancellation of mankind’s first baby steps to the stars really so mundane? (Cue ominous music.)

Seemingly a bootleg video pieced together by some conspiracy theorist, Apollo 18 exposes the “truth” behind a lost Apollo mission. Turns out the lunar program wasn’t canceled because the astronauts were sick of Tang, but because there were some nasty surprises waiting in the cold, dark craters.

Does it work? Well, mileage may vary, but it helps if one approaches Apollo 18 not so much as a horror film, but more as a mockumentary of a mockumentary, using the ethos of the found-footage genre and utilizing it in an impressionistic fashion.

Here, director Gonzalo López-Gallego uses a blunt-trauma approach, but it’s ambitious. And mostly it lives up to that ambition, delivering an increasingly claustrophobic re-creation of three men trapped in a tin can thousands of miles from Earth. It’s not about the narrative, but instead an aural and visual assault that uses a bare story to connect it. It’s a horror film reduced to its most fundamental aspect, inverting the limitations of its low budget to achieve a ’70s vérité.

It’s a bold gambit that admittedly makes the film unwatchable to most contemporary audiences, although anyone of a certain age should be able to adapt to the grainy, roughly edited 16mm-footage approach. But even then the attempt has its internal weaknesses. As with most films based mostly on a gimmick, it outstays its welcome, and the actors are distractingly of the modern era. At no time do they evoke the mannerisms (or even the physical appearance) of the alpha males of the time.