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Apollo 18

Apollo 18, a low-budget, "found footage" sci-fi thriller directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, is built around a tantalizing, if far-fetched, revisionist-history premise. It proposes that NASA's Apollo program wasn't scrapped due to budget considerations, as Wikipedia alleges, but rather because something happened up there that made future manned voyages to the moon untenable. (It's not dissimilar to the concept behind the summer blockbuster Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a film which cost, by my estimate, approximately 200 times as much as Apollo 18 to produce.) The opening title cards instruct us that the film was compiled from over 80 hours of footage recently discovered and uploaded to, and I suppose we should count ourselves fortunate that someone took the trouble to edit the voluminous material into a single feature-length narrative - with three distinct acts, no less - rather than simply upload the choicest tidbits to YouTube. Suffice it to say, Apollo 18's core conceit requires not so much a suspension of disbelief as the outright abolition of it.

Two erstwhile (and, I suspect, future) unknowns, Warren Christie and Lloyd Goodman*, star as astronauts who are sent on a clandestine mission to the moon in December, 1974 - two years after the last "official" Apollo mission purportedly took place. Neither Christie nor Goodman are particularly gifted actors, but they're adequate enough if you imagine them as workaday engineers whose endless hours of study and training have perhaps stunted their social skills. Ostensibly there to install equipment for a classified early-warning system - and, for reasons unclear, instructed to document all of their activities on film - they soon encounter all matter of phenomena that lead them to believe there's more to the moon's desolate landscape than what their superiors have told them. Strange sounds emanate from the darkness, foreign footprints appear on the ground, equipment fails inexplicably: Someone - or something - was waiting for them when they arrived.

For cash-strapped filmmakers like Lopez-Gallego, part of the appeal of the found-footage approach, aside from the obvious savings on lighting and camera equipment, is its generous allowance for inexpensive (okay, cheap) scares. Properly staged, the tiniest, out-of-focus image at the edge of a frame can set the spine tingling. But while Apollo 18 makes full and flagrant use of the low-tech gimmicks at its disposal, it's more than just a lunar Paranormal Activity. There's a clever conspiratorial component to its story that adds a welcome layer of intrigue to the film. Lopez-Gallego is no Hitchcock, but he's no Oren Peli, either.

Ultimately, Apollo 18's fate hangs on a plot device that proves an exceedingly difficult sell. When we do eventually learn the nature of what's menacing the astronauts, the reveal can at best be characterized as disappointing. It perforates the intense atmosphere of paranoia and looming peril that Lopez-Gallego has thus far so carefully fostered, and to some extent undermines what is an otherwise gripping tale of suspense. On the moon, no one can hear you chuckle.

*According to IMDB. There are no credited actors. rated this film 3 stars.