Apollo 18 (2011)

Crimes:

  • In spite of the novel premise—it’s set during a doomed, covered-up mission to the moon conducted after the final Apollo mission in 1972—being one of the least effective of the recent crop of found-footage horror films
  • A hyperactive editing scheme that tapes together footage from several film stocks—and several ideas of what the film was supposed to be, and where it was supposed to go—into a headache-prompting 86-minute ordeal with little narrative sense
  • Trying to set a film on the moon in spite of budgetary restrictions that might have made wiser filmmakers stay earthbound
  • “Moonsters” (see below)

Defenders: Director Gonzalo López-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier

Tone of commentary: Congenial/self-congratulatory. Recorded less than two weeks before the film’s release, the audio commentary captures the collaborators sounding exhausted but triumphant. In spite of the project’s difficulty, they feel like they’ve put together a scary movie that works, capturing both the vast emptiness of the moon’s surface and the claustrophobic paranoia that might arise among men stranded on its surface and facing an obscure adversary. They even feel like the film’s central threat, sentient moon rocks that sprout legs and turn into malevolent spiders—which they dub “moonsters”—will terrify audiences. The confidence makes them sound, not unlike the film’s characters, like men who’ve been far away from home so long they may have lost their minds. Lussier: “In the first version of the movie, there was actual giant moon creatures. Which we got rid of.” López-Gallego: “Yeah, because they looked like bunnies.” Lussier: “They looked like giant moon rabbits. They were very scary. In a not-at-all kind of way.” He fails to note that even giant moon rabbits would be scarier than killer rocks.

What went wrong: The surface of Lussier and López-Gallego’s conversation reveals no problems with the film. They like it, and they like each other. But just beneath the surface is another tale, one of multiple reshoots, revolving writers, and enormous changes made at the zero hour. This is true from the beginning of the film—home-movie footage of the lead characters added toward the end of the production—through the end. López-Gallego and Lussier discuss multiple, disparate endings and cobbling together takes and dialogue from different versions into a patchwork conclusion. 

Changes were also made at the producers’ suggestion, and as the result of test screenings. But here’s the amazing thing, per López-Gallego and Lussier’s take on their experience: Every suggestion made the film better. For instance, the emotional scene in which one of the astronauts, though calm throughout the movie, loses his shit. López-Gallego originally cut it from the film, then restored it at the suggestion of producer Harvey Weinstein. “He was saying,” López-Gallego recalls, “‘You have one great scene in the movie, and you cut it out why?’ It’s true. [Actor] Warren [Christie] here is amazing. […] Harvey was like, ‘Why you cut it out?’ ‘Because it was not making sense.’ ‘Yes, it makes sense.’ So we put it in, and he was completely right.” Just like that!

Comments on the cast: López-Gallego and Lussier have nothing but nice things to say about the Canadian actors who play the astronauts. They improvised well, convincingly faked the reduced gravity of the moon, and put up with the costumes, even though, as López-Gallego notes, “Every time you wear this spacesuit, it takes like 45 minutes to put that on.” 

Inevitable dash of pretension: “Playing with the huge dynamics in the film, sound-wise, really helped add that feeling of being unsettled while you watch it,” Lussier says, as if he were the first person to discover that a loud noise after a quiet period can be scary. There’s also much praise for the “organic” quality of the film’s 16mm photography, never mind that the cut-cut-cut editing style makes the film feel anything but organic.

Commentary in a nutshell: López-Gallego, on trying to explain the difference between Apollo 18 and another movie to which it’s been compared: “The movie, let’s face it, it’s not Paranormal Activity… Of course it’s a found-footage movie, and it has some similarities. Because it’s a genre, and now it’s a new style. But Paranormal Activity, it’s a couple in a bedroom. And this is two guys on the moon.”