50 years ago this year, the Apollo 11 NASA mission successfully placed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of Earth’s solitary satellite: Moon. Yeah, of all the moons in the Milky Way, ours got the laziest moniker. Go fucking figure. Anyway, in 1992, They Might Be Giants released their album “Apollo 18”, which would be introduced to me by my friend and fellow HOPELESS stalwart Mike and go on to be my favorite TMBG production. It was named for the canceled NASA mission that was meant to follow Apollo 17 (weird, right?) but would never fly thanks to budgetary constraints. Said failed flight is the focus for our feature…which you probably already pieced together, given its title. I just wanted to shoehorn in the TMBG reference because my editor/wife isn’t a fan and I like to playfully dick with her! *blart*
As mentioned, Apollo 18 and any further manned missions to the moon were kiboshed in the ’70s because of those previously mentioned lacking funds. However, that’s just what the US government wanted you to think, because according to the found footage used to assemble these next 90 minutes of story, 18 DID happen! It was put back into action under the secrecy of bureaucratic red tape, the truth redacted along with the likes of the second shooter, the secret blend of herbs and spices of MK Ultra, and the identities of the victims who succumbed to Taft’s cannibalism addiction.
Air Force astro-boys Nathan Walker, Benjamin Anderson and Jonathan Grey were shot, on Xmas day 1974, into the inky black void of the galactic butthole with a top secret payload of spy equipment (to keep an eye on those dirty commies) and a shit ton of cameras to record every aspect of their mission, leaving behind a whole lot of loved ones who are no doubt gonna be memorializing them before you can say “acceptable losses”. While John Boy stays behind in their intended ride home (sorry boys, not how these black ops things work), the other two land moonside to carry out their mission, gathering moon rocks and setting up their surveillance equipment.
No sooner have they set up shop, the duo start hearing weird phantasmal spook noises over their radio and unsettling scratching sounds at the outside of their capsule. To make things creepier, overnight one of their rocks somehow escaped its containment bag and made it into the floor, contaminating the sample. Further sleuthing outside turns up a mysterious set of footprints that, when followed, lead them to… A Russian lander?! Cosmonauts of the Damned!
The only evidence of life that Ben (“Jalapeno Dick” to his friends) and Nate uncover near the abandoned pod is an emaciated corpse in a Russian spacesuit left in a nearby crater, surrounded by… more moon rocks. Nate gets Space Invader’d by some spidery-looking thing we glimpse for a brief second, but when Ben gets him back to their lander, he notices a wound on his partner’s stomach and a hard, ROCK-LIKE substance that he pulls from inside of it. Long story short, their paranoia tells them that their country isn’t just “spying on the Ruskies” and they realize too late that they’re jolly well fucked because the bizarre moon rocks that litter the surface turn out to be HOSTILE ALIEN SPIDER MONSTERS!
Apollo 18‘s reliance on the “found footage” motif works to both its favor and its failure. The dozen or so cameras from which the footage is spliced feels too much like a movie and not enough like actual found footage. This isn’t helped by the eyesore computer generated aliens that we’re supposed to believe are caught on camera and not just digitally smeared over the footage after the fact. Additionally, the actors here aren’t good enough to make their experience feel genuine. These guys are clearly going by a script. Genuine emotions are lost in exceedingly sterile or overwrought performances. There’s never a convincing halfway point between the two.
The themes of isolation and the absence of traditional movie soundtrack are the best parts of the movie’s gimmick and give the foreboding tone that a good horror movie needs, shored up by the creepy radio transmissions which, speaking of, are never explained. I guess the rock spiders are just naturally disruptive of radio waves and can make scary noises across them? I don’t fucking know. Just because it’s effective doesn’t mean it’s without fault. Kinda like my writing!
Two-and-a-Half Jars of Tang out-of-Five
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