The Apparition, out today, is a vaguely adequate horror movie in which a young couple struggles with some paranormal-ass activity. Where this movie shines, though, is in showing how braindead the whole "paranormal expert" subgenre of television and movies is.
Whenever you meet a paranormal expert in a horror movie, they're always right about everything. But The Apparition turns this on its head by showing these people with their gadgets and pseudoscience are dipshits. Yes, it's Ghostfacers: The Movie.
If you've been paying attention at all, you probably already know that paranormal scientists are responsible for all the trouble in the film. With their reckless experiments and the tampering with the forces that people were not meant to yadda yadda.
In The Apparition, a group of college students in a parapsychology department decide to recreate a famous disastrous experiment from the 1970s, bringing a ghost into reality by focusing their minds. The disastrous recreation is disastrous, and one of them is apparently killed — while Patrick (Tom Felton) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) survive. Flash forward a few years, and Ben is living in Palmdale, CA, with his girlfriend Kelly (Ashley Greene). They're living a normal suburban life, renting Kelly's parents' brand new house, when terrible supernatural things start happening. Their cactus dies, there are weird noises, and shit pretty quickly gets radical.
Every time we see Patrick and his old comrade Ben together, they're talking excitedly about their gadgets and the power of science. Patrick is constantly babbling about how, using his special headgear, he can amplify people's psychic power, turning four people into the equivalent of like 4,000 people all doing something psychic at the same time. Later, it's like, we're going to turn ourselves into like 400,000 psychics using some wires and an ipod or something. Fuck yeah! It's over 400,000! And the paranormal experts are useless fuckheads, of course, or the movie would be over before it even begins.
Meanwhile, Ben is a closet parapsychologist — he's determined to hide his past of raising unholy ghosties from his new main squeeze Kelly, even after shit goes fully Poltergeist in their new house and the floor and walls are getting covered with weird goopy mold. He believes Kelly will be safer if she doesn't know what's going on, because the monster is powered by people's belief in it, and he also wants to be Normal McNormalson, instead of a EMF-waving loon. He's like Sam Winchester at the start of Supernatural, or something.
And the relationship between Ben and Kelly is utterly awful. If this movie was a chick flick, it would still be a horror movie. That's how terrible all the relationship scenes are. This movie's total weak spot is dialogue — especially any scene where people are supposed to be acting normal. There's one scene early on where Ben and Kelly are talking about all the different ethnic cuisines they've eaten lately, except that they pretend this means they've visited a different foreign country every night. They've been to China, Ethiopia and Greece, all in just a few nights! Guh.
So the film is about the failure of science in the face of something primal and nasty, but it's also — on a possibly related note — about the failure of the American Dream. The film is NOT SUBTLE about this. There is actually a scene where Kelly and Ben sit in traffic and talk about all the abandoned strip malls and empty housing developments for miles around them. Whenever Kelly and Ben are at home in their own mostly failed housing development, the camera lingers endlessly on the "PLOT FOR SALE" signs. Kelly and Ben go to CostCo, and the film clearly wants us to see the pointlessness of all this conspicuous consumption in bulk, when life is futile. Etc. etc.
And the bulk of the film is focused on house porn gone wrong — subtly at first, and then with more and more levels of absurdity. The split-level cul-de-sac house that Kelly's parents bought as an investment gets the aforementioned goopy mold, but then the walls are slashed, the doors are trashed, and eventually bits and pieces of it start to look like a sinister old shack from the 1940s. The last time we see Kelly's parents house, it's looking like something out of MC Escher, the supernatural presence has gotten so medieval on it. The best scenes are probably all just the cringe-making stuff that plays on the ultra-common fear of your house being defiled and made unsafe.
Spoiler alert: A cute dog dies. This happens pretty early on, so it's not a huge spoiler. But if you're the sort of person who hates seeing a cute dog die, then this is probably reason enough to skip this one. Although, it must be said, the dog dies in an ultra-cute way. It just sort of lays down and looks sad for a moment, and then it's magically dead.
The scares are also pretty decent in the film, and they go way beyond the reliance on jump-scares that a lot of other horror films have traded in recently. There's some nifty use of weird sounds, and the camerawork is genuinely creepy a lot of the time. There are actually some scares in here that you may not have seen before, and the insanity does keep ramping up in a satisfying way.
That is, until the somewhat abrupt ending. There's plenty of resolution at the end, but it still feels somewhat rushed — almost as though they filmed more of a climax but it didn't quite work out. When the movie ended and the credits came up, someone in the theater where I watched it said, "Seriously?" as if wondering if that was really it. Pretty much everyone laughed, in audience solidarity. At the same time, The Apparition is around 80 minutes long, and very much bitesized. It does its thing, and then doesn't overstay its welcome. The fact that the climax of the film is over pretty quickly isn't necessarily a reason to complain, in fact.
In any case, if you find the endless fetishization of paranormal experts, in both reality TV and many horror movies, somewhat grating, then this film will totally gratify you. And it's fun to watch Tom Felton talk about how many artificially psychic brains he can create with his fancy headgear. For science.