Appellate Judge Tom Becker thinks of horror movies as specter sports.
Once you believe…you die!
The Apparition is a tepid little ghost story; it's not quite as bad as I'd been led to believe, but it's not especially good, either. It aims low, offers a simplistic story wrapped in lots of convoluted gobbledygook, and exits quietly at the relatively short 73-minute mark (pre-credits).
The skimpy plot actually borrows liberally from other films, notably Paranormal Activity and Fulci's City of the Living Dead. This doesn't mean it's gory or suspenseful, just that it's no less evidently derivative than other low-budget horrors.
We open with some home movie footage shot in 1979 of a group of people having a séance to try to contact their dead friend, Charles. In the silent footage, tables hop around by themselves, and the polyester-clad participants smile and congratulate each other.
Flash-forward 30 or so years, and a group of college students is doing its own "let's contact Charles" experiment, also recording it with hand-held (video) cameras. Who is Charles, and why is there this great push to disturb his eternal slumber? Well, that seemingly important bit of exposition remains unexposed; all we know is that there's "The Charles Experiment," and all these folks want in on it.
Unfortunately for everyone, the latter-day Charles Experiment goes awry, and the hand-held cameras jump up and down, everyone screams, and the lights go out.
We then step away from all the hand-held nonsense and meet our protagonists: Kelly (Ashley Greene, Twilight) and her boyfriend, Ben (Sebastian Stan, Black Swan). They move into a home Kelly's parents own in a deserted, pre-fab community. Strange things start happening immediately: a cactus dies, a dog dies, icky, sooty stuff appears on a counter top, doors open on their own…yes, it's all the trappings of a poltergeist.
Only, Kelly and Ben aren't thinking "poltergeist." Kelly and Ben aren't really thinking at all, though they do have the presence of mind to go to a hotel (before that, however, they elected to spend the night on the property in a tent, so "presence of mind" might be a generous assessment).
So, what is this thing that's rattling the dishes and messing up the closets?
Well, I don't want to spoil it, but if you look closely at the title, you'll probably figure it out.
And, where did this thing come from?
Well, I don't want to spoil it…and I really can't, because the explanation is so confoundedly ridiculous and convoluted, I don't even think I could properly put it into words. Someone else who can't properly put it into words is Tom Felton (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), who turns up as one of Ben's college buddies offering a fistful of exposition; it's all pretty nonsensical, Felton's explanation, but we get the gist. Following this, we're treated to a veritable compendium of horror clichés from the last 15 years, as well as a solid look at Stupid Things People Do in Horror Movies that Cause Trouble for Themselves and Others.
While The Apparition is generally a silly mess, it still has a few quiet scares and some throwaway bits of suspense. If writer/director Todd Lincoln had focused on subtle suspense, he might have had something.
But Lincoln devotes a lot of time to introducing Ben and Kelly, and trying to get us to relate to them. Bad move. The characters are stock and inane, and listening to them prattle is irritating. That they're such standard-issue dullards cuts into the suspense, because we pretty much know what they're going to do as soon as things get spooky.
On top of that, the apparition itself is just too vague to get worked up about. Despite giving us no less than three hand-held sequences from the past, as well as the requisite clumsy exposition, we're never really sure what this otherworldly thing is or what it wants. Despite its apparent proclivity for violence—one girl gets eaten by a wall thanks to the thing—no one tries to contact a paranormal expert or a priest, or anything like that. Rather than having the mysterious being function as a character, it's merely a device that plays havoc with the electricity and the potted plants, and is chasing our heroes around for no apparent reason. Despite an outlandish but compelling final few seconds, The Apparition offers nothing new in the way of haunted horror, and barely squeaks by with the few chills it does present.
The Apparition (Blu-ray) from Warner Bros. offers up a decent-enough transfer of a film that doesn't seem to have looked all that great to begin with. Color and detail are fine, but much of the film plays out in the dark, and frankly, it's not always easy to see what's going on. Better is the DTS-HD surround track, which renders the all-important ambient sounds clearly. Supplement-wise, we get some short featurettes featuring real-life paranormal investigator Joshua P. Warren, as well as a standard behind-the-scenes featurette, plus the as-expected DVD and digital download.
A few small scares wrapped in an otherwise dull, barely comprehensible story.
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