AUGUST 23, 2012
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PREMIERE SCREENING)
Hopefully you haven't seen the trailer for The Apparition yet (I won't embed it like I usually do*), because whoever cut it clearly hates you, the movie, and everyone involved with its production. Spoiling the entire final act and mostly selling a different movie, it's the sort of trailer that can singlehandedly ruin a film's chances of being liked, and it's a shame that an original horror movie (with a fairly small "wide" release of only 800 screens) had to deal with that extra kick to its shins.
Now, it's not a great movie, and I'd be shocked if anyone said it was. But it's got some cool ideas, and goes about its somewhat traditional haunting story in a different way than many others. There's a heftier dose of science and experimentation than usual, to the extent that it almost feels like a Quatermass type movie at times, as opposed to the Paranormal Activity/Grudge type flick the trailers sell. One of the trailer's many offenses is showing nearly all of Tom Felton's scenes as a parapsychology student who assists the hero couple with their ghost problems, but ironically one of the movie's faults is that he's not in it enough - his limited screentime never gives him a chance to become a fully realized character, and thus most of what he does is drop exposition.
Instead, we spend most of the time with Ashley Greene's character, and as a warm-blooded male I certainly had no problem with that in general. But alas, as easy on the eyes as she may be, there's only so many times I can see her get scared or question why this or that is happening in the film's first half - I kind of wanted them to get on with it (it being what the trailer showed) and be a little proactive. Or even provide a little more insight into her and Sebastian Stan's characters/relationships, as it's unclear how long they've been together, how they met, etc. Ordinarily it wouldn't matter, but as he hides his past (he was Fenton's partner in the experiment that has unleashed this evil), it keeps us at bay when she discovers it. She seems upset that he had a relationship with one of the other parapsychology students, but without that context, it just makes her sound like an idiot. "Who cares about his old girlfriend when your house is haunted?" the audience will think - but maybe there was more to it that we just didn't get to see. The movie is under 80 minutes without credits, and there are two credited editors (unusual for a non blockbuster), so it wouldn't surprise me in the least if there was some tinkering.
Luckily, it does NOT appear to be the victim of re-shoots. Clearly the first directive would have been "more scares!", but the movie is refreshingly low on "Boo!" moments, and even better - none of them are fake scares. No mirror gags, no one sneaking up on their partner for no reason, etc. The only one that kind of fits the mold is when a neighbor girl bangs on Greene's car window at one point, but the girl really is pissed at her and follows her banging with an ominous message. Since I hate most of that bullshit, I was happy to see that writer/director Todd Lincoln is smart enough to know what a waste of energy these sort of scares are.
Some of the actual scares work pretty good, too. I liked the subtlety behind many, like when Stan notices that a door that swung open still had the deadbolt engaged. There's also another bit where a bureau moves as she is putting away laundry, so she ends up dropping the clothes in midair. Low-key gags like this make up the majority of the first half, until things get really intense and we start seeing more FX driven gags. CGI is thankfully kept to a minimum, and the best bits here are a little more unusual, like when she nails up a door to keep the ghost trapped in a laundry room only to discover she has somehow gotten turned around and has barricaded herself WITH her enemy. One of the ghost's MOs is to fool his victims into seeing things that aren't really there, and while he doesn't use it much, it's a cool little addition to a modern horror villain's usual bag of tricks.
But for every good scare or intriguing element, there's something amiss. Early on they establish that their neighborhood is empty (save for that one aforementioned family), and nothing really comes of it. It's such an unusual idea for a movie of any sort, so it seems weird that they take the time to establish it when there's no payoff. The back-story, laid out in the film's opening sequence, also doesn't seem to have any further information on it - as far as I can tell Greene is never even made fully aware of what they were doing back then or who the guy was. I also noticed that she seemed to be emasculating Stan in some way - she always drives him, she beats him at video games, etc - but if it was intentional, I didn't see much of a reason for it. Again, it's possible that the film was re-edited, so I am curious to see if the DVD will shed some light on these elements.
And DVD is probably where it will find most of its audience, thanks to Warner's borderline limited release and lack of advertising (that cool poster with Greene being swarmed by ghost hands? I have yet to see it anywhere around town). It's a shame, too - the movie was shot (quite wonderfully so) on 35mm by none other than Daniel Pearl, who gave us Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the opening scene's 1973 date apparently a tip of the hat) and, most importantly (to me) the trio of Michael Bay videos for Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell II album. Speaking of music, the score by TomAndAndy is quite good, but it doesn't seem to fit this particular movie - it sounds more like a Bourne or Enemy of the State type soundtrack. The characters are just driving home from Costco (the store being a recurring motif), but according to the soundtrack, they are pursuing an international terrorist who has the detonator for a nuclear bomb.
Ultimately, it's right on the line of being something I'd recommend. If you've seen the trailer, then it's nearly impossible to expect you to enjoy it, given that it gives away most of what the movie sets up as a mystery or a reveal (Drive Angry's trailer did something similar, making it sound like Cage's escape from hell was the plot, as opposed to a twist). But if you can manage to go in blind, I think there's enough there to enjoy, especially if you're tired of the jump-scare driven PG-13 horror films that only offer one legit threat moment for every 10 involve someone backing into their friend and shrieking. Just don't expect to be at the theater very long.
What say you?.
*Instead, I'll just offer the song "Apparitions" from Matthew Goode, as it gets stuck in my head every time I hear the film's title.