The Blair Witch Project is still the best Found Footage movie. It’s not just because its one of the first but because now we have had a deluge of imitators, the purity and simplicity of the movie is really refreshing. It doesn’t have a soundtrack or a gimmick for how the camera is utilised. It has unknown actors and a very simple, but terrifying setting. Since Blair Witch, there has been an ever-increasing range of Found Footage films that have tried to recapture the magic and originality of the horror classic. Only one film has come close to managing that, Paranormal Activity, which was as simple and straight forward as Blair Witch but in the more terrifying setting of your own house.
The other imitators have all over-complicated the genre or not even tried to change anything. An abandoned mental asylum or Chernobyl, is not different enough to the best of the Found Footage movies. Fortunately, Apollo 18 picks a setting that is perfect for this kind of film.
Space is the setting of one of the greatest, and scariest, films of all time, Alien. It’s claustrophobic, dark, moody and unknown. It’s the perfect place for a Found Footage film because the whole idea of filming every little thing that is happening make sense.
One of the things that bugs me about Found Footage films is that if I was being chased by a huge monster or haunted by a possessed child, I wouldn’t still be holding the camera! The camera is the first thing that would go, probably having been thrown at whatever was attacking me at an early opportunity. In space, particularly with astronauts, the cameras are constantly mounted on the characters and their every move is documented, meaning the footage never feels forced.
Space offers the kind of scares that works best for Found Footage anyway. Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity both play on the idea of something moving out the corner of your eye. You are happy to watch a scene for five minutes, waiting for something to move, jump out or appear. Space, or in particular, the Moon, is perfect for this. An eerie setting, sparse with nowhere to run. As astronauts are working in one area, your eye flicks from place to place, watching for whatever will attack them from one of the corners.
It’s not just the scares and the setting that are important. This is a film that primarily has a cast of two. They aren’t the unknown actors you’d come to expect but although I recognised them, I wasn’t sure where from. They do have to do all the work to convince you of the scares and to get you invested in the character. They are very different too, which helps the story and the film progress. Warren Christie plays the more gung-ho of the two but its the more sensible character, played by Lloyd Owen, who will become the more terrifying. I don’t want to spoil it here but the two of them, enclosed in a claustrophobic moon lander, makes for some creepy and scary moments.
These moments aren’t as frequent or as scary as they should be though. There are some very clever and creepy scenes. Christie’s character will find his way through a crater by taking flash photos, sign-posting to the audience that something is about to appear but still maintaining its fright-factor. Owen’s character will explore another vehicle and what he finds will be as terrifying as anything alien on the planet. These are what makes Found Footage the perfect medium.
The film will always resort back to the usual tricks though. A quick flash across the camera. A slow reveal of something sinister or the camera being knocked over and dragged somewhere else. These are all tricks that have been done before and in some cases much better. There is a lot of original material here but sometimes the more familiar aspects kill the mood and the fear.
Overall, Apollo 18 is a great, original Found Footage film. Its got an original setting, a great story and two convincing characters. Found Footage is perfect for the Moon setting and never feels contrived or forced which is quite unique. It does have some very clever and unique moments but these are mixed with the same old Found Footage tricks, which actually detract from the scares rather than add to them.
Rating – 3
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