Guest Movie Review: The Apparition
The Twilight film series will finally be coming to a close this fall, and with it the free rides of many of the young actors and actresses who made names for themselves in their roles in the franchise. Series stars Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner have already left a trail of side projects trying to prove their versatility, with varying degrees of success. And nobody can deny Anna Kendrick’s rise to prominence with an Academy Award nomination for Up in the Air, plus starring roles in 50/50, ParaNorman and the upcoming Pitch Perfect. Even Kellan Lutz will have a chance to break out of the Twilight cage when he stars in the announced Tarzan movie. But it is the future career of series favorite Ashley Greene that seems to be in question. Besides appearing in a few little-seen Indies, Greene has yet to make a name for herself outside of the realm of vampires and werewolves. So naturally her first widely-released starring role comes in a movie about poltergeists.
Stardom will have to wait a bit longer, because Greene won’t be reaping any benefits from The Apparition, by first-time director Todd Lincoln. Lincoln also wrote the screenplay, which is partially based on the Philip Experiment; a real-life attempt in the 1970’s to manifest an imaginary spirit to show that it was an unexplained ability of the human mind to project spirits – essentially, that ghosts only exist because we want them to. A similar experiment starts off the film, as a trio of college students attempts their own supercharged version and in doing so seem to create a monstrous spirit with murder on its mind. Not long after, Ashley (Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) begin to experience strange happenings in their new home. When things go from bad to worse, Ashley learns that Ben had been part of the project, and they team up with the only other survivor of the experiment to try and send this paranormal entity back to the place it escaped.
If you watched the trailer, you might wonder where all the “You believe, you die” stuff comes into play; you know, the only part of what we were shown that was the least bit different from standard paranormal fare. Well, Lincoln apparently decided to scrap that angle – he even has his characters state that the ghost haunting our characters is indeed from another dimension and not our minds at all. So it’s just another poltergeist. Fantastic. Lincoln also eliminates much of the “science” in his experimentation, tossing out ideas for combating a spirit that seem to operated on the same principle playing a record backwards to discover satanic messages. In his life, Lincoln obviously has never heard of the scientific method, and much of his screenplay feels more comfortable trying (unsuccessfully) to scare the audience than explaining anything. In fact, he actually cheats, blaming the “illogical” and “unpredictable” attacks on the ghost itself and not his shoddy script. If you want to go the pseudo-science route in telling a story, I’d appreciate it if you actually bothered to use some science in the final product. Otherwise, why bother?
The acting is nothing special, but one can’t help but notice the not-so subtle attempts to drag in the Twilight crowd. Greene is an obvious example. She’s beautiful, occasionally runs around in her underwear and in a script full of blatantly bad and clichéd dialogue, manages to hold her own competently enough. I’m sure there are those hoping she can graduate from the “Scream Queen” role, but for the time being she is at least well suited to it. The other bait seems to be the careful deliberation in turning Sebastian Stan into a poor man’s Robert Pattinson. Everything is there: the carefully-sculpted hair, the scruffy, shaped jaw line, the constantly intense eyes. Stan even shares Pattinson’s acting style, meaning you’re going to spend most of the film wondering why he looks so familiar when you ought to be paying attention to anything that happens to be going on. Tom Felton (Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy) gets to be British again, which is the best thing I can say about his otherwise unremarkable performance. The guy who got to utter one of the best lines in last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is merely here for exposition, and to die quickly. Nobody ever expected that this would be an “acting” movie, but considering it does little else well, the acting needed to step up and take control.
Of course, all this would be moot if the film actually bothered to scare its audience. Even a movie substandard in every other way can make up a lot of ground by properly messing with your head and keeping you on the edge of your seat. But Lincoln, who has never created a show of this size, seems lost most of the time. His narrative is a mess; his story makes no sense, and while he occasionally strikes upon a moment (such as one featuring a neighbor’s child) that at least surprises the audience, he cannot maintain that focus, so everything once again descends into drudgery. The movie never takes advantage of its good ideas, so the whole experience feels like one long derivative college film exercise.
We’re getting to that time of the year where horror becomes more prevalent, the transition of the summer blockbuster season to more moderate, subtle filmmaking. It also starts Halloween season, which means that The Apparition is just the first in a wide dispersal of scare-oriented movies designed to put butts in the seats in a cheap, efficient manner. Unfortunately, we’re off to a rotten start: this was probably the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen – certainly it’s in the running for the worst movie of 2012. With The Possession coming out next week and more seemingly superior titles on the horizon, there’s no reason to waste two hours and catch this on the big screen. Even if you’re consumed by the need to witness a Hollywood scary movie, you can do better than what Todd Lincoln has deemed “good enough.” Skip it at all costs.
John C. Anderson is a freelance writer and film enthusiast living in Boston. For all his latest movie reviews, check out Hello, Mr. Anderson.