Officially, Apollo 17, launched December 7, 1972, was the last manned mission to the moon. But two years later, in December of 1974, two American astronauts were sent on a secret mission to the moon funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. What you are about to see is the actual footage which the astronauts captured on that mission. While NASA denies its authenticity, others say it’s the real reason we’ve never gone back to the moon.
The found-footage horror genre requires an unusual amount of give and take between filmmakers and their audience, with receptive viewers using their imagination to fill in the blanks that teasingly lie just beyond the camera's narrow viewfinder. Apollo 18 boasts a novel setting and a nicely conspiratorial vibe, but suffers by its tendency to reveal too much too soon. Told via a combination of surveillance footage and artfully cruddy 16mm, the film follows a final covert moon landing, with its crew tasked to set up cameras in the ominous interests of national security. As the astronauts deal with a malfunctioning capsule, a series of unusual events suggests that the lunar population is a number greater than two. Director Gonzalo López-Gallego makes fine, spooky use of the claustrophobic interiors and vast desolate exterior (a strobe-lit sequence set in a dark crater is destined to bring on the whim-whams), aided by a terrific sound design and some creepily invasive jump-scares. (Remember, astronauts: always check your helmets.) Unfortunately, the promisingly ominous mood of the film's first half gets diffused with the decision to show what exactly is out there knocking on the airlock, a revelation that starts out hard to swallow and quickly becomes, well, pretty silly, frankly. Although the originality of the premise and the downbeat '70s ending ensures that fans of the genre will still find much to like about Apollo 18, a less concrete menace could've made it soar. --Andrew Wright