Tom Felton, Sebastian Stan, Ashley Greene
(Warner Brothers; US theatrical: 24 Aug 2012 (General release); UK theatrical: 24 Aug 2012 (General release); 2012)
A good ghost story gets under your skin. It has you anxious, nervous about the noises you hear in seemingly empty attic or the darkest part of the night. It’s more than just a series of shocks and jolts. When properly invested and interested in the fate of those around, a haunting can be pure horror gold. It can also be as weak and worthless as a turn of the century séance. Into this potential motion picture potboiler comes The Apparition, the latest in a long line of fright flicks that want to make us squirm by balancing suspense with surprises. The only problem here, the movie is bereft of both. As a matter of fact, it often feels like just an outline, waiting to be filled in with the kind of substantial shivers direct to DVD scarefests deliver with efficient regularity. Sadly, they were never inserted.
Our story is actually broken up into three parts. At first, we learn of the Charles Experiment, a 1970s attempt to make a spirit materialize in front of a group of mediums. A few decades later, some college kids, enamored of the paranormal possibilities, decide to recreate the event with the help of some high tech equipment. The results are disastrous, and deadly. Now, a participant named Ben (Sebastian Stan) is afraid that whatever they unleashed is following him to his new life with veterinarian student Kelly (Ashley Greene). They are currently house sitting for her parents, and some strange things have started to happen. First, the furniture begins moving. Then a neighbor’s dog dies in their laundry room. Before long, creepy ectoplasmic mold is growing everywhere. When a former colleague (Tom Felton) shows up, claiming that the entity is out to capture human hosts, the situation turns from frightening to fatal.
The Apparition is awful. It’s like the idea of a scary movie removed from all its genre mandates. We get a baffling, ambiguous premise (are these purgatory trapped spirits out to live in the “real world,” or just eager to suck people into the walls…), characters we care little for, and a last act that limps along in a dumb, disconnected manner. One minute, our hero couple are traveling several miles to find a “cure” for their current situation. The next, it’s time for a spastic wilderness hike. Writer/director Todd Lincoln, handed the reins of his first full length feature after a series of shorts, bungles the handoff mightily. He can’t convince us of anything that is going on and resorts to cheap cinematic tricks (found footage, surveillance angles) to bring something, anything, to life. Instead, The Apparition lays there like a lox, rotting ever so slightly until the aroma of failure fills the predictably empty Cineplex.
One has to wonder if there was a better, more believable script somewhere before the suits at Dark Castle and Warner Brothers got a hold of it. The basics remind the seasoned horror fan of such films as The Legend of Hell House and Poltergeist. There are even nods to recent thrillers like Insidious and Paranormal Activity. But the material is handled in a manner so superficial and slight that it barely registers. We don’t get to know much about or loving couple, care less about their materialistic trips to Costco, and cringe as they begin the process of being pawns in yet another dopey horror experience. Sure, they finally leave the haunted house to hang out in a hotel, but as with many such moves, the spirits are not fooled. Instead, we get a few interesting F/X and a return to the residential scene of the crime.
It’s not really the actors’ fault. Felton, fresh from putting the final touches on the Harry Potter franchise, continues to prove a performer of interesting choices. While Rise of the Planet of the Apes remains a far better film, his work here is polished and professional. Similarly, Mr. Stan has got glower power down to a glum science. He overdoes the darkness just a bit, but we can see that previous events have really taken a toll on Ben. No, it’s Ms. Greene that becomes the most troubling element within this narrative. First of all, the current member of the Twilight travesties is some manner of real life shape shifter. One minute, she looks great. The next, it’s as if her entire physicality has changed. One scene, her hair is dark. The next, it’s more or less red. Her emotions are equally inconsistent. While she whines about staying in such an uneasy situation, she does little to distance herself from the source of the scares - aka Ben.
In fact, without a foolproof idea that we can hang our fright fan hats on, The Apparition becomes a bore…and the most frustrating part is that there’s a decent idea in there. The notion of uneasy ghosts, eager to break into the human world and run rampant, has potential, especially in light of the way in which our trio tries to tame it. Opening a doorway to another dimension is as old as horror itself, and yet when done right, it’s dread central. Here, we’re never quite sure about the how and the why. The Charles Experiment at the beginning seems innocuous enough, but once Draco and his buddies start diddling around, the point grows mute. Instead, it’s just a foundation for a lack of legitimate scares. Sure, we jump at a couple of sound cues, but that’s all. Indeed, The Apparition takes a potential paranormal romp and robs it of its purpose.