Dark Castle Entertainment’s new supernatural film, The Apparition, boasts stars from Twilight, Gossip Girl, and the Harry Potter series. It also represents itself with an awful poster design depicting a young woman covered in creepy hands. Dark Castle has a disreputable track record, having released mediocre horror films like Ghost Ship and Gothika. These ingredients are red flags to discerning horror fans. Directed by first-timer Todd Lincoln, The Apparition is another in a long line of disappointing big budget mainstream horror films.
The Apparition is the story of Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan), a young couple living in the outskirts of Californian suburban sprawl. Kelly, a vet tech, and Ben, a research assistant, live miles away from the city in a house owned by Kelly’s parents. It’s located in a development of expensive cookie cutter homes just past an expanse of strip malls.
Items around the house begin to mysteriously move around on their own, and the couple find themselves on edge. A ghost from Ben’s past—part of a college experiment designed to conjure and capture a spirit—has come back to haunt them. The nasty entity scrapes the walls, makes deafening booming sounds, and leaves a moldy residue all over the home. The couple relies on Patrick (Tom Felton), Ben’s former partner in the paranormal research, to help contain the malicious poltergeist.
The Apparition sounds interesting on paper, but the execution is inexcusably poor. The film hinges on a convoluted premise that involves utilizing amplified brain waves to conjure spirits. The characters are able to accomplish this using electronic equipment that looks like leftovers from a high school audio visual class and can’t possibly contain the power Patrick claims. Even though Ben and Kelly live very far from the site of the original paranormal incident, it’s unclear how the entity is able to track them. If it possesses the ability to hitch a ride on Ben’s brain waves (used in the experiment), it’s never explained in the story. It’s just one of many confusing aspects of the film. Similarly, we have no idea why the group conducted the initial experiment in the first place. A horror film can keep things vague and mysterious, but here, the missing details are a damaging omission.
The biggest offense is that The Apparition is patently unscary. Popular mainstream supernatural fare like Paranormal Activity and Insidious are flawed genre offerings, but they succeed because they deliver scares with subtlety. There’s absolutely nothing subtle about The Apparition. The film is obnoxious in every possible aesthetic choice from the score to the shoddy CG effects. The meager scares come fast and furious from the get go, so there’s really no chance to develop tension. This is especially tragic since there’s no real investment in the characters. Everything functions as a way to get from one tepid set piece to another. There are a few nods to Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge that are derivative, and feel especially out-of-place in the context of the rest of the film.
Lincoln may have salvaged things had he explored a few potential themes in his film. He could have commented on the crashed housing market and given the suburban setting a sense of isolation. The simple notion of seeing foreclosure signs in the yards, the streets and driveways barren, could have created a frightening environment. He also could have taken better advantage of Ben’s past indiscretion aspect of the story. Lincoln misses a chance to give his characters an interesting relationship dynamic that in the final film results in nothing more than an ill-timed temper tantrum by Greene’s character. It’s that sort of compelling drama that could have reeled in the audience. Instead, it factors in the revelation as a laughable excuse to get the heroine alone in the house.
In a nutshell, The Apparition is a film produced with no regard for the audience. The climax—involving a possible purgatory spent in a famous department store—makes absolutely no sense. The screenplay is full of plot holes and subpar dialogue. True masters of the craft utilize long takes, restrained sound effects, and minimal music to generate palpable dread. The Apparition uses overly loud crashes and booms, unrelenting music that sounds lifted from a Nicholas Cage heist movie, and cheesy shadows and reflections to force its scares. It’s insulting, cash-grabbing dreck that lacks respect for its audience and the horror genre, which is sadly par for the course these days.
By Chris Hallock