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Black October: Apollo 18

October 12, 2011

There’s a reason we never went back to the moon.

It begins with a secret Department of Defence mission to the  moon, an undocumented effort to install spy cameras to guard against Soviet incursions. Three NASA astronauts take off in secret as part of Apollo 18, which officially never existed, and two of them descend to the lunar surface to carry out their mission while the third orbits, waiting. Their families don’t know they’re there. The public thinks the Apollo program is finished. Only a select few military and NASA specialists on the ground know three Americans are in space.

  • On Day 1, they set up their cameras and collect samples.
  • On Day 2, they find a footprint that isn’t one of their own. And then they find something else.
  • On Day 3, they wake up to find their flag missing. And they know they aren’t alone.

I was hoping to love this but expecting to be disappointed. The result was right in the middle. It’s a found footage flick, like Paranormal Activity or Cannibal Holocaust, but it works fine, because that format functions best in enclosed environments. And it makes sense that old footage of the mission would be revealed decades later, so you can buy into the premise. It even looks like ’70s stock. The actors, all familiar-looking macho guys whose names don’t matter, are convincing as trapped, scared heroes used to being able to deal with whatever’s out there … until whatever’s out there wakes them up by shaking their lander as they sleep.

You probably have to be a genre fan to like this. It has very little mainstream appeal and could be a challenging watch for popcorners. And I suspect I’ll have to watch it again in a year or two to remind myself of it. But it succeeded on the most important front: for a while, especially in the first half hour, I forgot it came from someone’s imagination.

The only flaw, to me, is the threat itself, but that’s a minor quibble. This is a decent little space thriller with some real chills and plenty of the kind of space conspiracy crap I like reading about, even if I can’t even begin to buy into it. A secret lost lunar mission? Come on. Everyone knows Steve Austin was the last man to walk on the moon.

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