It's quite obvious that a lot of love went into making Apollo 18, so it's a real shame that Apollo 18 is the result. That is to say: the movie is so utterly broken at a conceptual level that a truly good film was completely out of the question, and yet director Gonzalo López-Gallego flung himself into executing it as thoughtfully and carefully and with as much attention to detail as if he'd been tasked with premiering a lost Shakespeare play. In fact, it almost makes the film worse that López-Gallego so obviously fussed over it; a trashy throwaway movie that looks like every other trashy throwaway movie you've ever seen is easy to forget, but a trashy throwaway movie made by somebody with evident talent who seems to genuinely think that what he's doing is worth the effort is uncomfortable and embarrassing.

The film informs us in a title card that what we're about to see is edited down from some 80-plus hours of footage that mysteriously appeared on a website in 2010, and sure enough if you visit that website now, it just has a message stating that it was forced to close because of The Man, and I am not going to link to it, thank you, because I see no reason to do the movie's work for it. Anyway, the 80-plus hours and the 88-minute movie both purport to show the true story of what happened to the "canceled" Apollo 18 mission, and why NASA hushed it all up, going so far as to name the capsule used in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project of 1975 "Apollo 18", just to throw everybody off the trail, I guess, though if you were to say "Apollo-Soyuz Test Project" to the people in the film's target audience - or heck, maybe even the filmmakers themselves - they'd probably have no idea what the hell you're talking about, because the kind of people who are space junkies enough to care that much about the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project 36 years later are all undoubtedly smarter than I am and knew without paying money to see it that Apollo 18 has nothing to offer the individual who respects and admires NASA other than bitter, salty tears.

So the footage, then, is what was recorded by all the various instruments and cameras crammed onto the capsule and the lunar module for that mission, making Apollo 18 the latest of that wonderful "found footage" gimmick, though more in the Paranormal Activity 2 "surveillance cameras" mode, than in the Paranormal Activity "shared perspective with a character" mode; and like Paranormal Activity 2, it is bad. But the good thing is that López-Gallego and cinematographer José David Montero do an absolutely stellar job of making their footage look right: aging it properly and filming it on different stocks and media as would be appropriate to the cameras, or at least spending a hell of a lot of time in post-production massaging the footage until it looked just so. Based on what kind of camera is meant to have shot any individual angle, there are at least four different aspect ratios on display: 1.37:1, 1.66:1, 1.85:1, and what I'd guess to be 1.78:1, though I cannot swear to it. This might sound like the stupidest kind of techie bullshit, but it's a sign that the filmmakers were thinking hard about what they were doing, and even if any random viewer didn't notice or didn't care about that kind of minor detail, it registers on a subconscious level. The point being that the film looks real, and that is half the battle.

Tragically, the other half of the battle is a bit like kittens with little foil swords charging against a German Panzer division. Apollo 18, in its found footage way, tells of Commander Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen), Captain Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), and Lieutenant John Grey (Ryan Robbins), who were informed to their surprise that the canceled mission was getting revived for a rushed trip to the moon late in 1974, and sent up with the specific mission of gathering samples and installing motion-sensitive cameras, and that three trained scientists didn't see fit to wonder why they were installing motion-sensitive cameras on the moon is merely one of the many points that Apollo 18 makes a rude gesture in the direction of narrative logic and proceeds down its merry path of inanity. The reason, we learn in the mini-twist, is that the Russians had successfully landed a single-man vessel on the moon, and the US wanted to keep an eye on the Commies up there; the actual reason, we learn in the mega-twist, is that the moon is host to alien life-forms that possess human hosts and make them psycho killers, just like that X-Files episode "Ice" that ripped off The Thing.

The last part of the movie, with Anderson learning slightly too slowly that Walker is turning into something deadly and inhuman, is not without some modest charms: there's a lot that even a low-budget film can do with make-up to make a human body look just wrong enough that it's insidiously creepy. The aliens, when we first get a good look at them, are pretty stupid (I don't wish to spoil anything, but if you think "crabs made out of rock" you're most of the way, that is to say all of the way, there), but Walker and his bloodshot eyes is a satisfying movie monster, though not exorbitantly slow. But that's it, and it takes forever to get there: the beginning third of the movie feels twice as long as it is, introducing us to the characters and life aboard the Apollo 18 with pugnaciously deliberate slowness. Ron Howard's Apollo 13 covered the exact same ground in less time, and that was a damn big budget prestige picture with charismatic movie stars, and there was actual plot to go along with the exposition, not just anonymous figures doing pointless things while we wait for the dyin' and killin' to start up.

Even when it's good, anyway, Apollo 18 can never overcome how obnoxious the basic conceit is, nor how derivative of better movies, even better movies that still aren't that good themselves. The fuck-you to NASA I could never forgive, but it would take a lot more than "rock crabs from space make astronauts go crazy" to get me to even consider doing so. Sure, it's assembled well for what it is, but what it is is stupid and boring and bad, and it's no surprise that the film was stuck with no fewer than six release dates before getting dumped in the lowliest corner of the year in the hopes that nobody notices. The pity is that it wasn't dropped entirely.