For a little while, I actually thought The Apparition was onto something. First-time writer-director Todd Lincoln begins his ghost story by tapping into a kind of homeowner’s paranoia. In an age of homes built with illness-inducing Chinese drywall and too-good-to-be-true foreclosures riddled with black mold, there’s good reason for young homeowners to be losing sleep. When Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan), a young couple in their first house together, start noticing bizarre growths on their walls and in their crawlspaces, many a homeowner will relate to that sinking feeling that something is deeply amiss.
In fact, early on Lincoln seems interested in exploring the modern middle-class milieu. Kelly works in a veterinarian clinic in the most generic looking strip mall in America. She and Ben shop at Costco. We see them pushing their cart through the wholesale warehouse, absentmindedly buying a small cactus that they don’t really need. The new subdivision they live in is woefully underpopulated, a rather obvious sign of the times. They’re as boring as any two people could possibly be. So when these weird growths start showing up in their house, we expect it to shake them out of their tranquilized state.
Unfortunately, any first-act promise dissolves as Lincoln struggles to tell an ill-conceived story about a séance that conjured up a spirit from another dimension. Unbeknownst to Kelly, Ben and three friends participated in an experiment intended to make contact with someone from “the other side.” Led by paranormal activity expert Patrick (Tom Felton), the experiment was a high tech update of a similar attempt to rouse the dead in 1973, the infamous “Charles Experiment.” Patrick’s version proves so successful, one of the friends, Lydia (superbabe Julianna Guill in a too-brief appearance), gets sucked right into a wall. She’s never seen again.
When spooky things begin occurring at Kelly and Ben’s abode, it’s pretty clear what it’s connected to. Kelly eventually discovers a bunch of Ghostbuster-in-training gear in their garage and puts things together. Her reaction is more annoyance than the expected mixture of anger and confusion. The couple flees to a hotel, only to discover that the awakened spirit has checked in too and tries to shrinkwrap Kelly with the bed sheets. You’d think that all this might be a deal breaker for Kelly, but she stands by her man. With the help of Patrick, they try fighting back to reclaim their house.
If any of this sounds enticing, I apologize for mischaracterizing The Apparition. It’s painfully dull, though at 82 minutes (74 minus end credits) it goes by quickly. The best scene is the one with Ashley Greene parading around the house in her underwear. Hey, this is PG-13, you have to take what you can get. The main problem is that Lincoln never makes his concept particularly clear. What was up with those moldy growths? Where did Lydia go—was she the one haunting Ben? I kept waiting for some kind of twist or revelation that would tie the largely unseen, interdimensional spirit to Ben, Kelly, or Patrick. Anything would’ve been better than nothing, which is what this limp thriller gives us.
The Apparition looks great in 1080p high definition, framed at 2.4:1. Daniel Pearl’s dark, moody cinematography is captured perfectly. Scenes inside the haunted house, such as a closet full of scraped walls and tied up clothes, are highly detailed—even in the shadows. Set in the desert of the American Southwest, the earthy landscape looks fantastic as well. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is just as strong. The séance at the beginning thumps around the channels effectively. This is a relatively modestly budgeted fright flick, so the sound design isn’t going to knock anyone out with demo-worthy quality. But once things start going bump in the night, with the LFE and rear channels judiciously engaged, the audio is more than effective.
Warner Bros. slipped this thing into about 800 theaters in late summer of 2012. It opened outside of the top 10 (number 12, to be exact) and went on to gross almost—but not quite—five million bucks, domestically. In other words, it was an unqualified bomb. That probably explains the relative lack of quality extras. Four brief featurettes are included. One is an EPK-style promo piece and the others feature “ghost hunter” Joshua P. Warren explaining the pseudo-science behind the film’s paranormal aspects. As uninspired as The Apparition is, Twilight junkies might want to see it just for Ashley Greene. Sebastian Stan has been effective as The Mad Hatter on ABC’s Once Upon a Time and also won fans for his portrayal of Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The First Avenger. Go in with the lowest of expectations.