A prologue is a pretty typical narrative device for horror films. These prologues typically open with a group of disposable characters who discover the threat of the film, wether it be a slasher, a ghost, or maybe even mold, only to be summarily dismissed once the opening credits flash onto the screen. The Apparition, written and directed by Todd Lincoln, gives us not one, but two prologues. This would be fine, but each prologue is nearly identical in theme and in sequence. The only real difference between the two scenes is that the latter features a particularly robotic Patrick(Tom Felton) providing pseudo-scientific babble that explains the “Charlie Experiment”, a paranormal investigation that is featured in both prologues.
After these prologues limp to an end, the story moves to Kelly(Ashley Greene) and Ben(Sebastian Stan), a new couple who have the good fortune of living in an incredibly nice house considering their jobs of choice. This residency is explained as house sitting for Kelly’s mother. The term “explained” here is a bit of an understatement. Every line of dialogue is peppered with awkward, lifeless exposition that does, technically, move the story along but does little else. Every human interaction is tainted by overt plot points revealed by stilted, unrealistic dialogue. No person has ever said, “Yes mother, everything is fine at your model home we are watching for you.”, outside of terrible movies.
This kind of script problem almost always leads to acting problems. The actors in The Apparition never seems to have advanced past the “read through” phase of production. There is no ease of speech or believability from anyone. Everything feels contrived and more than a little fake. This is most apparent in the relationship between Greene and Stan. In the running for “least chemistry between leads” neither actor ever really seems at ease. Struggling to force the exposition riddled dialogue from their mouths, the two leads have no energy left to create any believable chemistry or rapport between them. The result is a couple of actors reading lines at each other which never allows the audience to engage with any story elements.
It’s not as if those story elements exactly shine, however. The plot seems to be comprised of about four different ideas, none of them particularly good ones, that are explained through nonsensical science babble with some paranormal phrases sprinkled in, grasping at some semblance of cohesiveness. It shouldn’t really be difficult to make the paranormal scary. Darkness is scary. The unknown is scary. A force you can’t see waiting to attack is scary. The Apparition is not scary. The jump scares even fail to elicit any legitimate jumps. It is a mystery on how a story that comes preloaded with this many scary elements could be so boring and anticlimactic.
And then there is the directing. If Lincoln had spent a third of the time developing the horror that he spends ogling the body of Ashley Greene and random product placement, this film could have been an atmospherically intimidating film. Instead, the camera leers at the hind quarters of its lead actress and an unrelated bag of McDonalds. This lack of cinematic focus, combined with a weak expositional script, leads to a quizzically bad film. On the bright side, everything seemed to stay in focus and the color correction seemed to be consistent.