Mr. Gideon, You're Not Paying Attention!
The Apparition would be almost unworthy of comment, were it not for the cute story of how I came to watch it:
This month, thanks to long hours and project-related stress at my day job, sleep has become an even rarer commodity than usual. Commuting, family time, and household chores also make focusing on movie reviews even more difficult in the few moments that I'm able to get away. So, when this weekend came around, I really looked forward to seeing The Apparition--my enthusiasm doubled when I saw the film's 0% rating on the Tomatometer. After all, the only thing better than a great horror movie is an awful one.
The movie opens with a flashback to 1973, in which a group of scientists attempts to communicate with a recently deceased colleague named Charles Reamer. Out of the gate, I got three hearty giggles of disbelief:
1. Reamer, who is only seen as a sketch portrait, looks to be about eighty years old--as well as a turn-of-the-century undertaker. How he's supposed to be a colleague of this pseudo-hippie brain trust is neither explained nor explicable.
2. Though his last name is "Reamer", we're told that this botched séance would become known as "The Charles Experiment". Characters reference The Charles Experiment throughout the film, but my mind reflexively substituted "The Reamer Experiment".
3. "The Reamer Experiment" sounds like a band I might check out during Pride Week.
Next, we flash forward to a modern setting, in which three college kids attempt to re-create and improve upon The Charles Experiment. Things go wrong again, probably because the lead nerd, Patrick (Tom Felton), has built a device that amplifies the psychic energy of four people to the strength of five hundred. Evil is unleashed, the lights go out amidst screams, and we move into our third prologue in ten minutes.
When young-and-in-love couple Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) move into a new house,* they are plagued by strange occurrences. Furniture moves on its own; locked doors appear wide open in the morning; and otherworldly mold forms in odd places.
At the twenty minute mark, I found myself wondering, "Where the hell is Jeffrey Dean Morgan?" and "Isn't this movie about Jewish exorcists trying to close a haunted jewelry box?"
Yep, in my delirium, I'd confused The Apparition with The Possession, which doesn't open until next week. This realization was profoundly disappointing because it meant that A) my pop culture radar is on the fritz (I'd never even heard of The Apparition), and B) I was stuck with rejects from Twilight, Harry Potter, and Captain America for almost another hour--with no hope of pluck, personality, or scares in sight.
Maybe that's not fair. Greene, Stan, and Felton all do fine in the movie (a genuine shock considering the latter's laughable turn in Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and I doubt they all conspired with director Todd Lincoln to make a wildly conspicuous and not-at-all good non-franchise debut. But because there's nothing else going on in the movie, it's impossible not to think about the actors' other roles in the context of their new ones. From wondering why "Draco Malfoy" was having such a hard time fending off what should have been chump spirits (compared to Voldemort's armies) to fantasizing that Greene is actually Kristen Stewart's illegitimate, super-model sister, my mind went into overdrive trying to compensate for The Apparition's lack of things to get excited about, think about, or even remember from scene to scene.
This by-the-numbers retread has "Tax Shelter" splattered all over it. I guess first-time-feature-writer/director Lincoln's version of a personal stamp is to mash up Insidious with the Paranormal Activity movies. The over-reliance on video footage and endless scenes of characters setting up or sifting through electronic equipment; Patrick's warning to Ben and Kelly ("Your house isn't haunted. You are!"); and the fact that our only glimpse of a ghost hails directly from The Grudge makes me wonder if Lincoln began his career making Xeroxes for Hollywood development executives.
The Apparition's single worthwhile moment takes place in a hotel room. Ben wakes up stuck to the ceiling, forced to watch as the malevolent Reamer (tee-hee!) attacks Kelly in bed. She's sound asleep as the sheets tighten around her, forming what amounts to a human Space Bag. I knew that neither character was in danger--this isn't that kind of film**--but the scene offers a variance in intensity and visual invention that's noticeably absent in the other seventy-three minutes (it almost touches ninety, if you factor in the end credits).
Were I a crass man, I might throw in a nod to Greene's ass, which looks spectacular in panties and short-shorts. But I'm not, so I won't.
By film's end, I wasn't sure how powerful the ghost was or was not, what it wanted, or why I shouldn't think that building a new pschotrometer (or whatever it's called) that amplifies brain waves to four-hundred-thousand-times their average magnitude was a horribly misguided idea. I was left with a handful of increasingly sad and desperate characters looking for a quick end to their misery. Looking at the sullen faces around me as the lights went up, I realized that the only spooky thing about The Apparition is how closely the audience's experience mirrored that of the people they'd paid to watch.
*Yes, it's at the end of the street and the last one on the left.
**Meaning "a good one".