Written and Directed by: Todd Lincoln
Starring: Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan and Tom Felton
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Once you believe, you die.
While The Apparition is saddled with a thudding sense of familiarity, thereís a neat idea buried at its center that goes largely unexplored. Instead of conjuring up an entity from the netherworld using black magic, what if science could channel the power of our belief and imagination to summon up ghosts and goblins? For a brief while, thatís what The Apparition seems set to explore, and itís a refreshing change of pace to see a ghost story that might be more concerned with approaching its spirits from a new angle. Unfortunately, it embarks on a series of missteps just to become another run-of-the-mill haunted house movie whose dramatic inertia slowly burns away its good will.
Not one, but two prologues (both of which are eventually superfluous) introduce the notion of spirit-conjuring. In 1970, a group of psychologists embark in ďThe Charles ExperimentĒ in an attempt to communicate with a deceased colleague. 40 years later, some college kids (headed up by Tom Felton) replicate the experiment using advanced parapsychology methods and are successful. In fact, theyíre too successful, as whatever theyíve called forth wreaks uncontrollable havoc. Yet another flash forward finally reveals our story: a young wedded couple (Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan) have recently moved into a new home, andÖwell, you know. Youíve seen this before.
In fact, it's so familiar that, if not for the cast (comprised mostly of CW stars and supporting players in popular teen franchises), Iíd guess this was some lost movie from the last decade when Japanese ghost stories were being pillaged by American studios. Instead, I guess weíre far enough removed that The Apparition actually feels like a throwback to the days when wet-haired ghost girls clogged multiplexes. Something resembling The Grudge ghost even shows up, and the whole thing is soaked in that sort of dreary, somber J-horror vibe that I love. Anyway, itís not a great throwback, nor is it even a particularly good one, but itís got the right approach and tone. The Apparition isnít a jump-a-minute spook show loaded with a bunch of cheap jolts and fake scares. Armed with a buzzing electronic score and an appropriate gloominess, itís even sufficiently moody at times.
To its extreme detriment, however, the movie is barely a jump-an-hour haunted house movie; this is the slowest of burns that somehow turns an 80 minute run-time into a bit of an endurance test. This spirit is willing to reveal its presence, but in the smallest of ways--it moves dressers, shuffles around the closets, opens doors, causes electrical malfunctions, and manifests in molds. For a while, it seems like the couple doesnít need ghost hunters--they just need Bob Villa. Only a few of the really scary bits really hit, such as a creepy scene involving a neighborhood dog, as the haunting generally seems overly familiar and lacks genuine suspense. Writer and director Todd Lincoln certainly takes the admirable low-key tack, but itís so low-key that the buzzing score starts to simply drone as the film labors on. Though the film is remarkably short, it somehow still feels padded--it seems like each transition has at least two or three establishing shots, and so many scenes seem to linger just too long and results in the film flat-lining. Ultimately, it needs more of a pulse instead of simply reminding me of Pulse.
Even worse, this is a ghost story with little mystery; since the prologues literally give up the ghost, the only thing thatís really left to be discovered is its connection with the leads. Not even this is drawn out for too long (and itís blazingly obvious the minute Stan seems to be perpetually tortured or distracted), but it at least opens the door a different type of haunting as his college days start to catch up with him. The Apparition isnít really worried about that kind of emotional or human nuance, though, since it resorts to soap opera-style drama before slam-banging into its climax, where all those neat ideas finally return only to serve as window dressing while Greene, Stan, and Felton are subjected to typical ghost house business, complete with baffling decisions (though there's plenty of those to go around during the whole movie--who decides to camp out in the back yard when the house is haunted?).
At one point, Greeneís character attempts to trap the spirit in a closet, and you just want to pat her on the head. This thing has managed to exploit a rift through time and space, so I donít think itís too fussed by a hammer and a nail, dear. Greene, like the rest of the cast, is lost in the shuffle; she may well be a good actress, but sheís just a pretty face here thatís reduced to a collection of lip quivers and teary eyes that parades around in skimpy clothes. Likewise, Stan is a one note brooding, ineffectual putz, and neither he nor Greene drum up enough sympathy to carry the film. During his all-too-brief appearances, Felton is a bright spot as an ambitious but well-meaning student, and one almost feels like he should be the lead since heís much more compelling than the two with which the movie settles. Julianna Guill (whose talents and more were on display in Friday the 13th) makes a glorified cameo appearance in a role that feels like it should be more significant.
Perhaps Felton actually was the lead in some other version of this story; given the filmís length and its divided focus, it almost feels like someone got a hold of this and hacked it up into a Paranormal Activity wannabe, an ill-advised move since The Apparition isnít that type of movie. Itís worth noting that a dollop of found footage made the cut when the couple installs a security camera, but nothing of note is done with the aesthetic; in fact, one instance only serves as more padding when Greene finds footage from one of the prologues. Considering its already truncated length, itís remarkable that The Apparition could be even further streamlined. Regardless, it seems like thereís a different movie hiding in here somewhere, one thatís more akin to The Asphyx instead of the dozens of haunted house movies pilfered here. Iím a little bummed that The Apparition isnít more satisfying--itís got some working parts (like Daniel Pearl's slick cinematography) that arenít properly put into motion, and, given how dry this summer has been for horror, even a serviceable little J-horror riff would have been welcome. This one doesn't make much of a case for invoking those spirits, though. Rent it!
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