In the world of supernatural horror, it’s difficult to be scary and pay homage to your influences without giving off the appearance of ripping them off. So much has to be done right to make a legitimately frightening haunted house movie that each subsequent offering we receive, whether it be indie fare or born out of the Hollywood system, is inevitably compared and influenced by past ghost stories (Paranormal Activity ruined the whole “doors opening on their own” gag) that it’s rare to come across something that stands on its own. Suffice it to say, Todd Lincoln’s feature debut The Apparition fails to break the mold in so many ways it’s almost regressive in nature.
The Apparition opens with a found footage style seance wherein a group of scientists in the 1970s are attempting to will a spirit into existence. Naturally, this goes awry. It then quickly jumps to a group of college students in the present day lead by Patrick (Tom Felton) as they perform the same experiment, albeit with more advanced technology. Of course, it actually works, with Lydia, the lone female of the group, being sucked into the darkness by an unseen force. Despite the fact that it was all caught on video, no one ever thought to show it to anyone to prove that ghosts are real.
We then jump to the abnormally beautiful couple Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan), who are moving into a new home in an underdeveloped scenic suburban neighborhood. At first things seem great – great neighbor, quiet neighborhood, video games on the couch, and leisurely strolls through Costco – but within a day it becomes clear that they’re being haunted. After several days, Ben’s secret, which he somehow felt the need to keep from Kelly, is revealed, prompting him to seek Patrick’s help.
The Apparition is little more than a vehicle for cheap, ad hoc scares that are completely lacking in context or substance – furniture moves on its own, an unseen figure picks up a camera, and for some reason a fungus-like growth starts to grow everywhere. At no point does the film contain anything that can be considered an original thought, with any attempt at scaring the audience serving as a rip off of about half a dozen other haunted house or supernatural films of the past decade, particularly those that fall under the banner of “J-Horror.” It’s given an outlandish score, with thumping bass and a listless drone that is so out of place it actually manages to diminish what little fear might have managed to slip through the haze of mediocrity.
Early on the central conceit of the film – its one redeeming quality – is quickly abandoned, with the history of the ghost, itself a confused spirit with no rhyme or reason to its methods or madness, given little attention as Ben and Kelly stumble their way through the script. It’s only until the end with a bit of explanatory dialogue on the part of Patrick do we fully understand why it’s doing what it’s doing, but by that point it’s kind of difficult to care. Clocking in at a scant 82 minutes (that includes the credits), the film is so poorly paced and so poorly edited that scares come and go with a whimper before revealing an ending so anti-climactic it gives off the appearance of being compiled from the remnants of the film left on the cutting room floor.
Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan fail to bring any life to the film or their hollow characters, with their performances lacking any sort of emotion or personality that might make you care about them. They’re empty shells of human beings uttering stilted, lazy dialogue as they meander their way through each precarious supernatural situation they find themselves in. The only saving grace (and this is a stretch) is Tom Felton, proving he has something that resembles range despite it being lost in little screen time and pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo. He does what he can with the script he’s been given, but it’s not much.
The Apparition is a vacant, insipid, soulless, pathetic excuse for a film that barely deserves evaluation. It’s the kind of film that just makes you angry, not because you wasted money and time on it, but because it serves as a reminder that Hollywood simply doesn’t care about producing good horror. A cheap and lazy ghost story that gets by solely because of some misguided sense of “star power” is not the way to make a movie, and it’s insulting to fans and the genre.