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Film / Apollo 18 (2011)
aka: Apollo 18

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"There's a reason we've never gone back to the moon."

Apollo 18 is a 2011 American-Canadian found footage science fiction horror film directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego. It's basically The Blair Witch Project, on the moon, featuring astronauts (Warren Christie, Ryan Robbins, and Lloyd Owen) of the fictional 18th Apollo mission during the Cold War. The story follows the last, top-secret Apollo mission to plant advanced listening devices on the moon, so as to detect missile launchers... but something else is discovered instead...

As mentioned, the story is told in the style of found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Not to be confused with the 1992 They Might Be Giants album of the same name. Also not a sequel to Apollo 13 (though it would be pretty awesome if that were the case).

Tropes featured include:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Given that little is revealed about the aliens and the ambiguity of their behavior, this is natural. How intelligent they are, how does their parasitism work, or just what they are, all remains unknown.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • The astronauts are shown running across the lunar surface. For those unaware, running in low gravity is near impossible. It's best to gently hop along as shown in the genuine lunar landing footage. It's akin to running or walking in water.
    • Devices located on the surface of the Moon are thought to be of practical use for detecting Earth-bound ICBM launches. Not only would the Moon be on the wrong side of the Earth to watch for them much of the time, but the distance would impose a needless time-lag for the detectors to notice a launch and report back to Earth about it. This one is justified, though: the devices were never meant to do that, and the astronauts realize this when they take a moment to actually think about their mission.
    • Several shots show the Earth a short distance above the lunar horizon. At the lunar south pole, it should overlap the horizon.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Not the characters, but the aliens, who evidently don't need an atmosphere to survive.
  • Bloody Handprint: A canister in the Russian landing module has one on its side.
  • Body Horror: It's implied that something is infecting the astronauts... something that resembles rocks. Which burrow their way under your skin.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The rock sample that ends up on the floor.
    • Also, the Soviet lander that the astronauts find.
  • Chest Burster: The aliens seem to reproduce this way, with Walker eventually having dozens of them burst out of him inside his suit.
  • Covers Always Lie: A poster for the film depicts a three clawed footprint next to a human one. The aliens are spider-like and don't leave conventional footprints - they leave tracks in the film, but not that shape.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: the movie's first act describes the mindset of each character assigned to the mission. John Grey, the cheerful command module operator with a heart of gold who is just happy to serve; Nate Walker, the stern one from a military family who insists he never snores; and Ben Anderson, who has a beautiful wife who has supported him throughout his career, and a son who he wish could know that he went to the moon. Nothing bad can happen to them... Right?
  • Downer Ending: All three astronauts die, and the government covers up their deaths so that no one will ever know the truth. Even worse, it is implied the hundreds of Moon rocks mentioned at the end as given to dignataries all over the world might contain creatures among them.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: Are those rocks floating in the Soviet lander? Uh oh.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: There is a scene where Walker has a rock pulled from his open, pulsating wound. Thankfully, we aren't given a closeup of the procedure.
  • Government Conspiracy:
    • The tagline refers to the idea that the governments know about the aliens and don't want the public to become aware of them.
    • Apparently the Soviets sent a man to the moon around the same time the Americans did, possibly even earlier, and kept it a secret for obvious reasons.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The crew are disturbed by the sound of something scuttling on the hull of the lunar lander..
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Walker insists on being left behind because he's infected, but Anderson won't consider it until the end. Subverted in that an already completely possessed Walker undoes the sacrifice and tries to kill him.
  • Hope Spot: Anderson escapes the moon, and heads for pickup. Then the rocks float into view inside the shuttle...
  • A House Divided: After being injured by one of the aliens, Walker becomes increasingly hostile to Anderson.
  • Implausible Deniability: Not in the film itself, but in the publicity. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bob Weinstein, the head of the film's distributor Dimension Films, said: "We didn’t shoot anything; we found it. Found, baby!" Uhhh... sure Bob, sure you did...
  • Insectoid Aliens: The aliens are spider-like creatures who camouflage themselves as rocks.
  • It Can Think: Possibly. The aliens disable the Liberty's engines while leaving its vital support system intact (it is only compromised after a maddened Walker destroys the controls). Considering they abandoned the cosmonaut's body after killing him, it is probable that they can only feed on living bodies, for which they would need the NASA pilots alive but unable to leave the Moon...
  • Jump Scare: Quite a few, especially when the corpse of the cosmonaut is found.
  • Late to the Tragedy: Walker and Anderson follow a set of spacesuit tracks to the landing site of a Soviet LK lunar lander. The tracks go in circles, leading Walker to infer that a cosmonaut must have gotten disoriented somehow. The inside of the LK lander looks as though somebody went crazy with a hammer, and an open first aid kid is visible with multiple bloody dressings. Then Anderson finds the cosmonaut's body in a nearby crater, with his helmet off.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Largely subverted. While the movie may feel much longer, it has few moments not specifically dedicated to the plot.
  • Lunarians: A rare modern example of this trope not being Played for Laughs.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The three crew-members are all listed as having been killed in accidents at sea where their bodies could not be recovered.
  • Mission Control: The NASA kind, and a few seconds of an unspecified Soviet counterpart.
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: The astronauts are not given the true reason behind the Apollo 18 mission - to find out what happened to a dead lunar cosmonaut and act as Guinea pigs for potentially hostile lunar life forms, and threaten to cut off communication with the command module pilot when he attempts to aid in the return of the surviving lunar module pilot from the surface.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: The movie opens with one of these.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ben when he sees the rocks/aliens float up as he enters orbit in the Soviet lander.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The aliens burrow inside their preys and turn them psychotic. It is all we learn about it, though: it is unknown how much control of their hosts they have, or whether they have any control of them to begin with instead of merely driving them crazy.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: One of the symptoms of the parasite infection is a red ring around the host's irises.
  • Retraux: The entire film (including its CGI effects) is styled to match the grainy, low-framerate footage that NASA used during the 1970s.
  • Sadistic Choice: At the end of the movie, Grey has to choose between saving the life of Anderson, his only surviving crew-member who might be infected with an alien parasite, or obeying the secretary of defense, who orders him not to, under threat of not being allowed to return to Earth. Subverted in that both crewmen are killed.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Despite the story itself being fictitious, the filmmakers did get a lot of details about the Apollo program right, from hardware to terminology, meant of course to invoke Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
    • Bonus points for including the Soviet LK lunar lander. The actual Soviet moonshot vehicle, the N1, was kept top secret until after the end of the Cold War, and even today not a lot of people know about it. It is also clever that, since the N1 is a historic failure, the 1970s Americans call the Soviet lander "LK-Proton", implying that this one was launched on a Proton rocket (the same year, a Proton rocket carried Luna 22, the last successful Soviet Lunar orbiter, to its destination).
  • Soviet Superscience: Apparently the Soviets sent a man to the moon around the same time the Americans did, and managed to keep it a secret.
  • Space Is Cold: Actually justified for once. The crater investigated by the astronauts has never received direct sunlight.
  • Space Is Noisy:
    • Somewhat justified; many of the sounds we hear in space scenes are breathing of the astronauts, sounds that could have transmitted through their suits (though heavily exaggerated), or radio interference created by the creatures.
    • When the LVA (the ascent module used by the LK) collides with the Apollo command module, you can hear it approaching, even though there is no medium for that sound to travel through.
  • Ten-Second Flashlight: Walker uses his camera flash to explore the pitch dark crater.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trails show clearly that the villains of the film are spider-like aliens that get inside the suits.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Set in December 1974.
  • Unwitting Pawn: It turns out that the government suspected there were alien lifeforms on the moon; they just needed to confirm it, which was the purpose of the whole mission and the warning devices. Needless to say, none of the astronauts were told about this.
  • Urban Legends: The movie is based on the premise that the stories of lost Soviet cosmonauts are true—and that the U.S. government was not only aware of it, but actively involved in the failed mission.
  • Wham Line: "Something's inside my suit!"
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The official reports on the fate of Grey, Walker and Anderson ("His body was never recovered").
  • Your Head Asplode: Walker is killed when the aliens emerge from him, crawling around inside his helmet till his head explodes.

Alternative Title(s): Apollo 18