All that we and they know when they launch is that the Apollo 18 mission is completely secret — this detail picks up on the fact that, in real life, the Apollo 18 mission was planned and then scrapped due to lack of funds. In fine internet troll style, the filmmakers have taken facts and twisted them just enough to make their conspiracy plausible. The astronauts are told that the mission is to place secret surveillance equipment in orbit and on the Moon to spy on the Soviets. But of course this is the 1970s, so once things start to go wrong, it doesn't take long before one guy starts screaming about Watergate, and how if the President could lie to the American people, why couldn't the Department of Defense lie to them about their secret mission?


Like I said, there are a lot of clever details to love here. Setting this in the conspiracy-prone 1970s was a good idea, and the nods to realism set Apollo 18 a cut above. Though the plot isn't anything you haven't seen before, it doesn't insult our intelligence with egregiously bad plotholes. Also, the secret thing the astronauts discover is delightfully pulpy, and reminded me (in a good way) of classic 1930s science fiction.

In some ways, the movie's efforts to stay somewhat realistic were partly what did it in. It would have worked brilliantly as a short, or maybe as a series of web virals, but it just didn't deliver enough in-depth scifi madness to keep us on the edges of our seats. There are long, boring stretches where the astronauts are just sort of walking around and breathing, or telling each other lame stories while squashed in the lander capsule. Given all the tension, I was hoping for the guys to find something really mind-blowing that has major political implications for Earth. While what they find is creepy, it's just not the kind of thing that would inspire multiple government cover-ups. So the payoff, while nifty, is kind of a let-down.


Apollo 18 certainly isn't as cheesy as the Hellraiser movie that was set in space, or Jason X, which was also a generic horror flick pasted onto a space backdrop. But it shares with those movies a basic problem, which is that seeing horror tropes done in space doesn't necessarily make them scarier or more exciting. In fact, during Apollo 18, I found myself counting all the "horror movie trope . . . in spaaaaace!" jokes I could make. Hey, it's the fast-moving-demon-face-twitchy-twitch - in space! Hey, it's the scritchy sound outside - in space! Hey, it's the scary unexpected thing suddenly appearing out of the darkness - in space! Hey, it's the "we're totally alone in this isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere" - in space!


All that was missing was a bunch of dangerous hillbillies driving up in a ghostly Moon buggy, blasting White Zombie and wearing clown makeup. Actually, there really was that too. It would be too spoilery to tell you more, but trust me — it happens.


So if you're looking to be scared witless this weekend, Apollo 18 may not be the ticket. But if you want to freak out your conspiracy-loving friends, take them to see it and tell them that it's totally real. I guarantee that they will believe it. I'm not sure whether that's means Apollo 18 is good, or just good at fooling people. Yes, there is a difference.