When frightening events start to occur in their home, young couple Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) discover they are being haunted by a presence that was accidentally conjured during a university parapsychology experiment. The horrifying apparition feeds on their fear and torments them no matter where they try to run. Their last hope is an expert in the supernatural, Patrick (Tom Felton), but even with his help they may already be too late to save themselves from this terrifying force.
In 1973, a group of people tried to contact a dead colleague of theirs, and succeeded. Years later, Ben (Captain America: The First Avenger's Sebastian Stan) and Patrick (Tom Felton from the Harry Potter films) tried to make contact with the same spirit, and also succeeded, not only in making contact but in bringing it over to this world from the next. A few years after that, Patrick tried to force the entity back to its own world, and failed. Ben and his new girlfriend, Kelly (The Twilight Saga's Ashley Greene), have just moved into a cozy little dream house and are eager to get their lives together started. When doors start unlocking themselves and property starts getting vandalized around the house, Ben has an idea of what is going on, but plays it off as simple criminal mischief. When he finds out that Patrick has desperately been trying to contact him, Ben knows that the being that they conjured is behind the strange happenings. Ben, Patrick and Kelly must find a way to rid themselves of the spirit once and for all.
That's the plot of The Apparition, the first feature length film from writer/director Todd Lincoln. It's loosely based on a real experiment called the "Philip Experiment," where a group of paranormal researchers made contact with a spirit named Philip Aylesford (the 1973 footage from The Apparition even looks a lot like the television video of the actual experiment). The interesting thing about the Philip Experiment is that Philip Aylesford never existed; he was a complete fabrication of the members of the group, and their collective subconscious energy manifested itself in ghostly phenomenon, like table movements and knocking noises. If Lincoln had gone this route with The Apparition, it would have been a much better film. But, alas, the spirit that Ben and Patrick summon is very real, and The Apparition is less an intense psychological thriller and more a boring attempt at a modern ghost story. The premise of a summoned spirit haunting those who brought it into the world is a solid one, if a bit stale, but where The Apparition goes wrong is in the execution. There really is nothing much to like in the film - the cast is stiff and awkward, the visual effects look like they were pulled from the outtakes of every Japanese horror remake this side of The Grudge, and the story drags on to its inevitable sudden conclusion that, unfortunately, doesn't come suddenly enough.
The attempted story arc in The Apparition doesn't arc at all. It never really gets going, with the characters just wandering around for most of the movie screaming about broken security cameras and gasping at moldy spots in their house. While it looks on the surface to be a breath of fresh air in an overdone genre, Lincoln's take on the haunted house story is just dull and lifeless, and The Apparition seems destined to wallow away with the rest of the forgotten generic horror films of today.
The one bright spot in The Apparition, and probably the only real reason to see the film, is the cinematography. Todd Lincoln seems to be trying hard for a vintage horror look and, with that in mind, made the perfect choice for his director of photography, using experienced horror cinematographer Daniel Pearl (who shot both the original 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the 2003 reboot along with the 2009 imagining of Friday the 13th). Pearl's camera uses tons of grainy, low angle shots of earth-toned colors that are remarkably effective at capturing a golden age slasher feel. The blend of lights and shadows combined with the tasteful use of camera movement give The Apparition a look not unlike Brian De Palma's early work, films such as Dressed to Kill and Blow Out. In an otherwise messy movie, Daniel Pearl's photography in The Apparition can be counted on to keep things interesting and impressive.
While there have been many PG-13 movies that are scary, The Apparition is not one of them. There is nothing in the film that even the most casual of horror movie fans will not have seen before, and they've most likely seen it done better. The film seems to be trying to be scary without being gory, and the attempt is to be commended, but there aren't even many good clean shocks and starts to get the viewer's heart pumping. The film's buildup has potential, and there is plenty of mystery surrounding the titular apparition. It takes its time showing up, too, helping to heighten the tension, but the film as a whole falls completely flat. In the end, The Apparition moves too slowly and is too predictable to generate any scares.
August 24, 2012