Dimension Films’ secretive Apollo 18, which arrives in theaters this weekend as something of an under-hyped mystery, is another of those mockumentaries that employs the found-footage formula introduced by The Blair Witch Project and incorporated to popular effect in the Paranormal Activity franchise.

The notion of said footage revealing a secret, disastrous moon mission is a promising one, full of potential. Unfortunately, director Gonzalo López-Gallego bungles that intriguing concept in astonishing form, turning it into a muddled, mind-numbing mess.

One fundamental problem in a flick filled with them is that it’s set in December 1974. The age before video is hardly an ideal setting for this sort of production, which must rely on contemporaneous material that could have been conceivably shot by an astronaut team under great duress.

So Apollo 18 is miserable to look at, a cruddy, murky assemblage of dank images captured on sub-par home movie cameras, NASA surveillance technology and more. The film is so difficult to watch, and it’s such a chore to discern a sense of place and perspective, that it sits onscreen like a big, dead weight. The awkward cuts, hurried handheld camerawork and strobe effects only further the alienating effect, widening the gulf between the viewer and the events onscreen.

The buzz-cut, good ol’ boy astronauts, sent to the moon ostensibly to install anti-Soviet ICBM detectors are not just one-dimensional Right Stuff clones — they’ve hardly even got that one dimension. They’re just about impossible to tell apart — there’s the macho one, the macho one and the macho one — and that’s not good enough, even for a “documentary.”

That leaves us with three deadly dull automatons on an oppressively drab trip to the moon, where the movie launches into a seriously half-baked Alien clone. And therein is its greatest conceptual failure.

Found footage pictures like those mentioned above work because they hit close to home, because they unfold within a familiar realm. Who hasn’t feared getting lost in the woods? Whose house doesn’t make noise?

Twelve people have ever set foot on the moon.

Maybe Buzz Aldrin is the intended audience here. Maybe he’d find the thought of moon rocks transforming into deadly parasites to be the stuff of nightmares. If Apollo 18 is actually the world’s most expensive movie made for a handful of people, then kudos to all involved.

For the rest of us, who haven’t launched into orbit or touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, it’s a weary, headache-inducing hour-and-a-half that’s as stimulating as a trip to the garbage dump.

The Upside: Erm. Um. Uh …. It could be worse?

The Downside: It’s hard to watch, not scary and I actually started digging through my wallet out of sheer boredom.

On the Side: “We didn’t shoot anything,” Dimension’s Bob Weinstein told Entertainment Weekly. “We found it. Found baby!” Ok, Bob.


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