PLOT: Strange, sinister occurrences plague a couple after they move into a new house.
REVIEW: THE APPARITION is a movie that comes with a shockingly low amount of fanfare (faith) from its studio, Warner Bros., which must not even be predicting a modicum of the success that greets some late-summer horror titles. I personally have not seen a single commercial for the film; several people that I asked don't even know what it is. Warner Bros. gave it an advance screening for critics roughly four hours before it became available to the public, and we were still told that an embargo was on the review until midnight. Not great signs.
Obviously, I entered the theater with little-to-no anticipation for the thriller, which is the feature debut of Todd Lincoln, a noted commercial/music video director. (He was once attached to a remake of David Cronenberg's THE FLY.) But hey, sometimes that's the best way to see a movie like this, don't you think? With low expectations, a glimmer of hope resting in the back of your mind that just maybe this will be something of a sleeper. At the very least, one can wish for a flick that'll kill 90 minutes with hardly any effort...
No such luck.
Truth be told, THE APPARITION isn't in-your-face horrible. It's actually worse, in a way: it's so unexceptional that your brain is in the process of forgetting it as it plays out in front of you. It feels like a relic from four or five years ago, when we were forced to endure a plethora of sub-par PG-13 ghost-centric offerings in the wake of THE RING and THE GRUDGE. Remember SHUTTER? PULSE? THE UNINVITED? This one goes on to the shelf next to those winners.
The story has been expelled from the same machine that churns out every other plot like this one; there's really no attempt to give it a life of its own: An attractively bland couple (Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan) move into a new house in Palmdale, CA, which is essentially a desert sprinkled with small clusters of houses identical to one another. (A POLTERGEIST neighborhood, if you will.) Soon enough, our boring couple begin to notice weird things: an ominous mold is growing everywhere, doors are opening by themselves, a neighbor's dog dies in the laundry room. (“Your house killed my dog!” the pooch's owner helpfully informs them later on.) It becomes quite clear that a spirit has invaded the premises, and the logical thing to do is move. But they can't...
Because, you see, it's not the house that's haunted... it's them!
That line would have a little more resonance if a similar one hadn't been used last year in the much superior INSIDIOUS, a PG-13 horror story that knew how to crawl under your skin, spook you and show you a fun time while doing it. But the fact is, yes, the couple is being haunted, by some kind of otherwordly demon that was conjured up during a college experiment Stan's character (I forget his name) took part in with Draco Malfoy, aka Tom Felton (without bleach-blond hair). Said experiment involved bringing forth a ghost or manifestation from another dimension - or something weird like that - and trapping it in our world for reasons I can't really fathom. We'll just agree that what they did was immensely dumb, didn't make sense in the first place, and now they're paying for it.
I'm sure as far as the film is concerned, the idea that some of the characters have forcibly brought the ghost into our reality is what makes THE APPARITION unique - it's not just another haunting, in other words - but the execution of every single scare/suspense sequence has been recycled from a dozen other movies, so what's the use of the unique plot angle if you're not going to run wild with it?
THE APPARITION has sat on a shelf for almost two years, so I cannot say how much of it truly represents Lincoln's vision, and how much is the garbled product of studio interference, post-production chaos, etc. I almost feel bad ripping it a new one, because it doesn't even put up a fight. The movie seems to accept its fate as insignificant tripe very early on, so that none of it can ever be the least bit compelling for the audience. Everything is half-baked, from the apparition's lame presentation and back-story (I'm still not sure I fully understand what the deal is), to the third act, which is weak and poorly conceived in a rather pathetic way. The final few moments of this movie have all the impact of a mournful sigh; I frankly felt awkward for it. I wanted to say, “Hey, movie, this is when you're supposed to, you know, try to send us out with a bang. At least flick the lights on and off, throw in some loud noises? A freaky vision or two? Anything? Movie... are- are you okay?”
The film's leads don't help, although it would take truly exceptional thespians to elevate it. I have nothing against either Ms. Greene or Mr. Stan (I'm being formal here because I'm about to insult them), but neither possesses a forceful screen presence or magnetism. Greene is very good-looking, a true beauty, but she makes Megan Fox look like Meryl Streep, while Stan is just... okay. The characters are undercooked already, so saddling these two with the job of bringing them to life - with nothing other than exposition-filled dialogue and worried staring contests with walls and globs of mold - kneecaps THE APPARITION's chances of investing us in their plight.
There's nothing more to add; no need for further dissection or analysis. I would have welcomed a movie – or, more accurately, a movie experience – that tried hard and failed spectacularly, as opposed to what THE APPARITION does, which is limply retread the same old territory, the same old way. How boring and depressing.