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Fantasia Review: In a Valley of Violence
In 1974, a secret 3-man team is sent up to the moon to place surveillance equipment to monitor Ivan and gather moon rock samples. Lt. Col. John Grey observes from orbit while Capt. Benjamin Anderson and Commander Nathan Walker tackle the legwork. However it's not long before they discover that something's wrong. They find the remains of a Russian spacecraft and what's left of a cosmonaut. Soon the team's equipment gets wrecked and one of the ground crew becomes infected with something, causing him to become paranoid and violent. Cue secret government coverup.
It's been over ten years since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT graced theatres and had us freaking out over the supposed "real" footage that was found in the woods. Now along comes APOLLO 18 with it's "found" classified footage and a now-dead website that claimed to have found over 80 hours of this classified footage and made a movie out of it. Of course, this is the age of the internet, and we all know better. Still, overlooking that bogus claim, does APOLLO 18 entertain as a mockumentary, or is the whole thing dead before it hit the ground?
Right away, I have to give the production crew a lot of credit for doing the painstaking details in making it look like the cast was really on the moon, and the fact that the footage looks like it was from the 1970s. Credit also goes to director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego in his first English-language film for getting that creepy vibe thing going almost right from the get-go. When the two astronauts start hearing the weird chitterings and eventually find the abandoned Cosmonaut lunar lander, the creep factor was in high gear and continued for some time. There's just something creepy about someone standing over another person watching them sleep...
Acting wise, seeing as there's really only three characters and the bulk for the screentime centres around two of them, it's nice that we get some development (although if you've seen the trailers, you know who gets infected). That said, Warren Christie, Ryan Robbins and Lloyd Owen (who aren't named at the end of the film because it's real footage, har har) provide their characters with a somewhat believable camaraderie with fairly good acting. Once sh*t does start flying and things approach the film's climax, there are spots where the overacting does kick in and dialogue segues into typical horror movie stuff, but that's not the biggest of the film's problems.
You see, the film can't get away from the plotholes the size of the moon that brings the whole thing down. Remember how I said that we're in the age of the internet? Back in 1999 when the world was just starting to get into this whole 'world wide web' thing, we weren't exactly sure about what we were seeing. Nowadays, when someone comes up with supposed "classified" footage and makes a film out of it, you know that there's a pile of BS in the middle of it. Really, why wouldn't the US government step in and take everything and prevent the film from release if it were real? But hey, it's part of the fun to suspend your disbelief, right?
Well, the film's problems don't end there. The film really does feel more like a film than found footage that was spliced together. Case in point: there are your typical horror movie moments where a quiet moment suddenly cuts to a loud moment to jar the viewer for a false scare. Then there's the whole thing at the end of the film where one of the astronauts is in the Russian lander. Where did that second camera come from? Also, there's the obvious use of undercranking some of the footage to get that head shaking effect on more than one occasion. Throw in the fact that once things start to creep closer to the end, the film falls into typical horror conventions of things conveniently happening for horror movie sake, acting starts to degenerate, clichés appear and so on.
APOLLO 18 wasn't as bad as many critics hit it out to be, but it still wasn't all that great of a film. There are some genuinely creepy moments and the production values are really good, but those get dwarfed pretty quickly. Once you get farther into the film, the creepy moments peter out and the film just starts to lag, ultimately culminating in more painfully obvious plot holes and typical horror movie moments that take you out of it all. As a B-movie affair that tries to capture the feelings many of us got from naively watching THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT for the first time, it's okay. But asking anything more from it isn't going to get much orbit.
Video: Seeing as this is all spliced footage from an apparent variety of sources, the main aspect ratio is 1.78:1 AVC-encoded 1080p widesceen. Despite the obvious intentional degrading of the film, it still retains that new film feel. The picture is intentionally grainy overall, with scratches, pops and burnouts. That said, there's still a great deal of detail in the picture (especially in actor Lloyd Owen's craggy face), and the appropriately drab colour scheme really shines through.
Audio: The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is also pretty good, giving us a great low-end rumble for when things need it. The only music that's used in the film is reserved for the front speakers, while the rear speakers don't get as much action, save for the thumbs and wailing alarms that spring up. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, even when garbled by the comm system effects.
The extras start off with a commentary with director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier. The commentary is pretty informative and somewhat entertaining as the duo discuss topics ranging from the film's uniqueness, the challenges of "recreating" period footage and ensuring a sense of authenticity. Also covered are the various visual styles and antique cameras utilized throughout the film, the actors and what they brought to the film itself, the challenges of editing a film like this and more. It's not entirely lively, but it keeps your attention.
Following that is a collection of deleted and alternate scenes. Some of these are throwaways (like the initial briefs and goings over of the equipment) while others add more plot holes (how did the US government get ahold of the Russian footage?). As for the alternate scenes (like the discovery of the cosmonaut found in the trailer), Lussier and Gallego were right to have the current takes in the film for their better effectiveness at getting things going.
Rounding out the extras are a series of alternate endings which involve the many versions of the fate of the survivors trying to escape the moon. The crash ending makes little sense when you think about it, while the infection ending is spliced into the film's ending. There's also the ending that had shades of a scene in ALIENS involving Bishop (you'll get it) that lingered for way too long. In the end, it was obvious that the final ending is superior.
There's also that digital copy crap that no one who knows how to rip Blu-Ray movies and compress them will care about, but then again it's better than having 80GB of your hard drive eaten and 5 hours of your time spent converting everything.
What started out on the right foot despite a blatant plothole that I was able to overlook turned into an exercise in frustration as more plotholes showed up and the pace of the film bogged down, along with the obvious scare tactics and predictable happenings. I have to say that the filmmakers went to great lengths to get things looking right and play up the creep factor, but by the film's halfway point, you could tell what was going to happen. Put it in your B-movie rack as something to do on a Saturday when you're waiting for your laundry to finish.