With Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, Tom Felton, Julianna Guill, Luke Pasqualino. Written and directed by Todd Lincoln. Rated PG-13 for terror/frightening images and some sensuality. 82 minutes.
THE APPARITION is such a minimalist haunted house story that it takes on a strangeness that makes you wonder if they intended more than reaches the screen. Its short 82 minute running time belies the fact that nine of those minutes are for the extended closing credits, and the visuals there are thematic rather than providing additional story.
We get two prologues. One is cheesy (and obviously staged) footage from a 1973 séance. The second is an attempt to recreate it on a college campus in the present. Something goes wrong and the young woman in the group disappears. Sometime later one of the men, Ben (Sebastian Stan), is now involved with veterinary student Kelly (Ashley Greene). They are renting a house owned by her parents in a huge California development in which only one other house is occupied.
Strange things are happening. Doors open. Furniture moves. Clothes are ruined. The neighbor’s dog dies. What’s going on? Something related to the experiment Ben participated in back in school has followed him and is now doing bad things at the house. When he and Kelly get out of the house they find that the malevolent spirit is following them.
Naturally the story must wend its way back to Patrick (Tom Felton), the ringleader of the experiment who has been conducting new and more powerful tests. He has a theory how they might be reversed. If you listen carefully to what his plan is, it is essentially mumbo-jumbo with some pseudo-scientific jargon thrown in for effect.
What’s odd is how deserted everything seems, almost as if they spent all the money on the house and the cheesy special effects, so that was nothing left over to hire extras. A big box department store is devoid of customers. The housing development is unpopulated. We see a handful of other people during the movie, but it’s essentially the Ben and Kelly show. This is unfortunate because their early romantic banter make you long for the horror. When it finally arrives, you’re not rooting for them to survive. Indeed Stan gets the film’s biggest unintentional laugh – or, perhaps, it was intentional – when Kelly discovers the terrible secret he’s been hiding and his answer is, “I can explain.”
First-time feature director Todd Lincoln does what he can with the limited budget and the limited script, the latter of which he wrote. He lucked out getting Tom Felton to provide some manic energy for the latter part of the story. If Felton seems vaguely familiar it’s because he’s best known for having played Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies. Perhaps he has some great roles ahead of him that will supplant that. Alas, this won’t one of them.
“The Apparition” is one of those late summer time-wasters that – like the film’s spirit – appears out of nowhere, hopes to grab you (or, at least, your wallet) and then vanish again. This might spook some gullible teens and tweens, but it won’t be around for long.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.