Gods and Monsters: Review: The Apparition (2012)

By Paula R. Stiles

The Apparition (2012). Director: Todd Lincoln. Cast: Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, and Tom Felton. Country: USA.

Several Young Ghostbusters rejects conduct a college experiment in which they try to contact the Other Side. It succeeds beyond their wildest nightmares – which means that it all goes horribly wrong.

Years later, one of the college students (Sebastian Stan) has married and moved on, or so he hoped. His new wife (Ashley Greene) is nice and, frankly, smarter than he is, but also a bit helpless. Let’s just say that once the men exit the scene, it’s no surprise she’s a goner. All seems fine until weird stuff starts happening and one of his old college experiment buddies (Tom Felton) shows up. Seems the experiment is ongoing and whatever they contacted wants to do a lot more than reach out and touch someone in our world.

Okay, first problem. I’m gonna spoil the very end for you. You know the poster? Well, aside from the fact that she’s not naked, that’s basically the ending in the film. It’s even in the trailer. And it doesn’t make a whole lot more sense in the film than it does just seeing the poster and watching the trailer. Also, the tagline? That has nothing to do with the theme of the film itself. The monsters in this one get you whether you believe in them or not.

The idea itself is rather interesting and pretty Lovecraftian. The Old Ones, or whatever they are, want in, thanks to someone knocking on their dimensional door and inviting them on over here. Oh, and they win in the end, so it’s appropriately bleak.

The cinematography is also not half-bad, at least in general. There are some pretty landscapes and everybody looks nice. If anything, the cinematography is not dark and grainy enough. The acting isn’t terrible – about CW or Lifetime Network-level – and the characters are reasonably likeable, though the husband is a bit of a putz. However, they are also very bland and cliched. They don’t seem to have very many internal conflicts, no idiosyncratic backgrounds, no interesting quirks. So, it’s difficult to care what happens to them. They’re just paper-thin.

Then there is the lack of suspense. I can’t fault the imagery too much because there are some creepy deaths – or, at least, they’re creepy in concept, not so much in execution. For example, the main way the creatures get you is to drag you into walls. We see this a few times. It sounds creepy and I swear that I’d normally find it so, but here, it left me cold. It’s definitely a Bad Death, but it’s so dragged out and underutilized (not to mention underexplained) that the horrific potential remains unlit. Even at 82 minutes, with a suspenseful teaser, it feels as though the film takes forever to get going.

One of the things I find useful about watching horror films and TV shows that don’t quite work is that their failures highlight something that you need for good horror. It’s as if the lack leaves a hole the precise shape of that missing element. For example, when I watched the very early television version of classic radio horror series Lights Out, I was curiously underwhelmed. The radio version could be quite terrifying, especially during the Arch Oboler era, but the TV show episodes always petered out. I realized that the reason why the TV version didn’t work was because it was missing a critical factor in the radio version’s success – the twist ending.

In The Apparition, I figured out (to my great disappointment) rather early on that the film is utterly lacking in jump scares. Now, the jump scare, like the twist ending, is admittedly a cheap and easy way to scare people, which is why it’s been overused. But you have to admit that it’s also very effective. You don’t really need jump scares in a good horror film, but you do need something that builds up suspense. The Apparition is full of scenes that ought to culminate in some spooky shadow appearing out of nowhere or bloody handprints on the wall or something, but aside from the odd garage door opening by itself, there’s not much. And since I also didn’t care about the shallow characters, the domestic drama once the female lead found out her husband’s previous girlfriend had been one of the first victims during the experiment just made me shrug.

Can’t recommend this one, I’m afraid. It’s not so bad that it’s good. It’s not really all that bad at all. But for all the charged potential of the main concept, it’s boring and not at all scary. Watch on Syfy if you must.