In “The Apparition,” a profoundly dull and uninteresting horror movie from the usually above-average Joel Silver genre machine Dark Castle (home to things like the crucially underrated “House of Wax” remake and the splatter-fu oddity “Ninja Assassin“), a group of smart aleck grad students unwittingly open a gateway to a vaguely defined supernatural realm and release some kind of ghost… or boogen… or something. And as a horror movie conceit, this one is pretty cool – testing tweedy academia’s hubris against the ethereal spookiness of the spiritual unknown. It’s just that “The Apparition,” which is horrible instead of horrifying, doesn’t do anything with the concept. Instead, it’s a plodding, undercooked, and old-fashioned (not in a good way, either) chiller that will bore you to tears instead of scare you to death.
In true horror-movies-in-the-late-aughts fashion, there’s a fair amount of found footage nonsense in “The Apparition.” When the movie opens, we’re treated to two such sequences back to back – the first takes place in the ’70s, when a team of research scientists attempt to contact the ghost of a recently deceased classmate. It’s a high tech séance, basically, and the sequence does carry with it a certain amount of old school dread (the bad ’70s hair and buzzy tomandandy score help), but the lack of plot particulars gets in the way – who is the dead scientist they’re trying to reach? What happened to the scientists after the séance? (We’re not even super-clear about what happened during the séance, come to think of it.)
The film then jump cuts to present day, where an entirely new team of young scientists is attempting the same experiment, with significantly higher tech gizmos and slightly better hair. Among these new lil’ scientists are ‘Harry Potter‘ alum Tom Felton (rocking a Gryffindorian scarf) and Julianna Guill from “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” and the abominable “Friday the 13th” remake (where she showed her, um, scream queens). But almost immediately after the experiment (which, again, isn’t even remotely explained) begins, Guill gets sucked into some kind of black vortex or something and is never heard from again. Science is a bitch.
After the title card, though, the movie shifts focus to a really dull couple composed of Ashley Greene, of the never-ending ‘Twilight; franchise, and Sebastian Stan, who had a role in “Captain America: The First Avenger” as the titular hero’s doomed sidekick. They live together in some godforsaken subdivision that buttresses the desert, and you get the sensation that the filmmakers are going for the dangerous post-recession malaise that last year’s “Fright Night” remake captured so brilliantly (mixed with the suburbia-is-a-portal-to-hell literalism of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper‘s immortal “Poltergeist“). It’s just that nothing ever feels even remotely real, so that when spooky shit starts to happen a couple of scenes later, you don’t really buy into it, although you kind of want to punch the creators of “Paranormal Activity” for making it okay for filmmakers to show empty West Elm-decorated rooms and expect audiences to be creeped out.
Anyway, the plucky young couple is soon menaced by all sorts of supernatural mumbo jumbo, although the entity first presents itself as a troublesome smudge on the kitchen counter, which isn’t all that threatening but is pretty messy. Greene, for her part, has to act both hysterical and determined, but is more or less resigned to having to wear a series of increasingly clingy low-cut tops and silky underwear. What’s even more maddening about these sequences of domestic bliss-goes-to-hell is that you’re still thinking about how much cooler that opening was – you know, with the scientists and the boogen. This stuff pales in comparison and when the “big reveal” (spoiler alert, we guess) comes – that Stan was a member of the newer research team – it’s less a shock and more of a relief. Now we can get back to that science-y stuff!
Except that the science-y stuff never comes. As the movie races to its climax (or, more accurately, anti-climax), it becomes increasingly apparent it will never amount to anything more than a total drag. Every decision from writer/director/editor Todd Lincoln seems to be the wrong one – from thinking that a chalky wasp’s nest is going to disturb anyone, to the clumsy framing of most (if not all) shots, to his handling of expository dialogue and general plot mechanics, to the way he constantly objectifies Greene and then tries to empower her. And with every poor decision the audience moves further and further away from actually being involved.
After a failed experiment to zap the boogen back to an alternate dimension (or something), Stan and Greene enter Felton’s house (located, presumably, on Slytherin Way) and Lincoln just runs expository dialogue over the scene. It’s supposed to be coming from Felton’s (audio?) diary, but that’s never made particularly clear, so instead it just feels like two characters physically moving against resistant, clunky exposition. If “The Apparition” was a smarter movie, made by filmmakers with a sense of humor (as well as horror history), you might think that this is some kind of knowing wink at the genre’s more awkward conventions. But alas, it’s rote and predictable in the worst ways.
With a premise as potentially nifty as the one presented “The Apparition” (it could have been a cool “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” deal, but updated with today’s technological omnipresence, scientific expansion and world-weary cynicism), you think at least some amount of fun could have been wrung out the proceedings. Unfortunately, from about two seconds after the title card flashes and up until its limp, existential finale, “The Apparition” makes no attempts to transcend or even enliven its genre. [D]