Not every movie can be a good one. I’m feeling pretty Zen about that right now. Maybe the lack of sleep is getting to me, or maybe I’m just beyond the place where a film as wholly inept as The Apparition can affect me on a personal level. Todd Lincoln’s horror movie, about a pair of bland twenty-somethings tormented by a spooky specter, has a couple of neat special effects to its credit but can’t muster a single decent plot point or one relatable character that manages to involve me either intellectually or on a base emotional level. When I finally get around to writing a textbook, this is going to be one of my primary examples of how not to make a horror movie. But hey, at least they got a movie made. That’s a small achievement in and of itself, especially with a screenplay this underdeveloped.
The film opens like it’s in a rush to get somewhere and can’t be bothered with the little details. A group of college students have huddled together in a room full of blinking-light equipment in an attempt to bring a real supernatural entity out of the spirit world. Something goes wrong, one of them gets pulled off screen, and then we’re transitioned into the ho-hum lives of Sebastian Stan and Ashley Greene. You may remember them from Captain America: The First Avenger and the Twilight movies, respectively. In fact, I hope you do remember them from those particular movies, since the residual audience familiarity is the only way they’re going to stand out in your minds.
Director Todd Lincoln appears to be attempting to humanize his protagonists by illustrating the nuts and bolts machinations of their daily lives before the “horror” sets in, but watching two characters go shopping and debate about whether or not they need a tent doesn’t reveal anything about them. They have no interests, no aspirations, nothing to quarrel about, and no deep-seated anxieties to be exploited as the film progresses, and The Apparition spends an awfully long amount of time making that clear.
When a ghost finally does attack them in their enormous house – not a relatable environment for twenty-somethings with low-paying jobs (they’re housesitting for their parents, but also have no emotional connection to those people or the dwelling they now reside in) – it’s filmed like we’re supposed to be worried about their safety. In reality, we’re wondering when the actual movie is going to start. It eventually turns out that Sebastian Stan was actually present at the ill-fated séance at the beginning of the film, not that we were consciously aware of that, and that his lab partner Tom Felton (of the Harry Potter movies) has been pursuing their work on his own, pumping the supernatural creature full of exponential levels of psychic energy because… because… hmm.
It seems that there’s another, more interesting movie going on in the periphery of The Apparition, about a character (Felton) with an actual passion for something, attempting to achieve a specific goal and getting his comeuppance twice filled, a horrible vengeance from beyond our astral plane for attempting to play God. But instead of seeing a movie about that guy, we’re stuck with two vacant heroes with barely any connection to what’s actually going on.
Some of the spooky goings on are kind of creative, but without any emotional connection to the protagonists it’s hard to appreciate that craftsmanship on anything but an academic level. The Apparition often plays like an elaborate animatic of the film’s many visual effects sequences, with the heart and soul to be filled in later. Except it is later, and there’s still none to be found. The finale of the film centers around an incidental bit of exposition that does nothing to illuminate the characters or play into their fears. It feels more like an excuse to shoot a sequence at CostCo. Without any sort of commentary on consumerism or suburban malaise (or anything else for that matter), I can’t imagine why anyone would bother going to all that trouble in the first place.
There’s a good movie in The Apparition somewhere. That movie is basically Flatliners, about a group of college kids whose scientific hubris comes back to haunt them in a very literal fashion. Or possibly that movie is Paranormal Activity, about a twenty-something couple with enough personality to justify filming them in the first place, before and after the ghosts show up. The Apparition bobs and weaves between these two movies, seemingly afraid to touch either of them, and it’s an awful lot of effort for no tangible reward. It’s on Blu-ray now, with a handful of special features, but there’s no real point in bringing that up. The Apparition was barely visible in its theatrical release, and it’s in everyone’s best interests that the movie stays that way.
Let’s just give everyone involved a great big mulligan and pretend this never happened. I’m looking forward to Todd Lincoln’s first film. His animatics look pretty cool.