To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I will watch and review a science fiction space film from the last decade each day this week: 

Gravity, Moon, The MartianEuropa ReportInterstellar, & Apollo 18
SPECIAL FEATURE: Apollo 11
Release date: September 2, 2011
Rated: PG-13

And so #SpaceWeek comes to a close ironically enough with my 69th post on Second Unit Reviews. It present the only film in this Film Review Series that I had never seen before today, and it’s a horror/suspense film to boot: Apollo 18.

Now, a caveat: I am not a fan of horror pictures, especially newer ones. Too many focus on the blood and guts, the horror that comes from the prospect of pain. Such films evoke disgust rather than terror, which are two different emotions, as James Cameron points out in Superior Firepower: The Making of ‘Aliens’ (an excellent, albeit very long documentary you should totally watch). The kind of horror I find truly frightening are the ones that are more subtle and psychological, the ones where you see something out of the corner of your eye but don’t know what it is. Fear of the unknown is a powerful, primal human emotion and Apollo 18 taps into that brilliantly.

The entire film is done in the style of “found footage” recorded by various cameras at different points during a top secret lunar mission, footage that was recently uncovered and released by a conspiracy-theorist-sounding website called “Lunar Truth.” Instead of landing on the equator of the moon, like previous Apollo missions, Apollo 18 is tasked with landing at the south pole to set up a listening post to track any Russian missile attacks. But the astronauts soon learn that the Department of Defense hasn’t told them what their real mission is… and when you hear something tapping on the outside of your lunar lander when you are on the moon… well, that’s when things start to go pear-shaped. Or rather… rock-shaped.

Apollo 18 does a great deal with very little. Easily 40% of the film is documented footage from other lunar landings, which was easier for me to spot having just come from seeing the Apollo 11 documentary. They do a fantastic job of matching the grain, style, and feel of the 1970s camcorders. The technology of the time is spot on and while the limits are sometimes stretched, they are never broken. My dad, who is a space buff, vouched for the accuracy on that score and gives the movie an A+ for it, which is pretty damn impressive because he has very high standards. The film doesn’t do much to establish the three astronauts as fully-fleshed out individuals (I can’t even remember their names) but still felt like real people within a few lines of dialog. I may not have been able to pick them out of a line-up, but I was concerned for their well-being, which quickly turned to sheer terror as their circumstances deteriorate. I was rooting for them the entire time, which is important because if you don’t care about the characters, then the horror won’t resonate.

There are a lot of people who seem less than impressed with Apollo 18, but my heart was pounding through the entire thing. Maybe more jaded horror buffs will sniff and brush it aside, but I found it an extremely convincing alternate history/conspiracy theory type of story. I will probably never look at rocks (especially moon rocks) the same way again. Maybe… just maybe… there is a reason we’ve never gone back to the moon…

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“Space Week” is a Film Review Series celebrating #Apollo50 and focuses on movies from the last decade set in space.