The latest in this year's small trend of supernatural horror, 'The Apparition' comes with the same old bag of tricks, where the unknown bumps in the night push the narrative rather than the plot. In fact, it doesn't take long before the sound effects become the center of attention while the mystery of their source is left with little to investigate, making it clear at the start that a séance gone wrong is the culprit. Admittedly, the use of the surround speakers and music are actually fairly effective and quite enjoyable. Part of the fun in watching a scary movie is to take pleasure in being immersed by an eerie, frightening environment. In that respect, Todd Lincoln's feature-length debut succeeds. However, when the plot is generally lacking and fails to win sympathies, making the scary parts the only focus, the end product is an emotionless thriller with a perplexingly detached and tedious conclusion.
Part of this monotony comes immediately after the séance prologue, which has a bit of a found-footage feel to it as well, when we first meet our young pretty protagonists, Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan). We see them commute from work to home, eat dinner at a restaurant and indulge in some meaningless chatter. The two even do a bit of shopping at their local Costco before finally heading straight home, where they spend more time rummaging through boxes, playing videogames and simply enjoying each other's company. It's obvious what Mr. Lincoln, who also wrote the script, is doing in spending so much time with the unmarried couple before delivering the scares, but seeing others perform so many chores around a recently-built house does more to bore the audience than make the characters likeable.
Mr. Lincoln tries to rectify the boredom with a few poltergeist-like activities and generate an unexplained spookiness of the house, such as doors opening on their own or dressers moving a few inches. The tension builds fairly well in these moments, especially since the filmmakers make blatantly deliberate use of the surround speakers. It's one of the only real positives enjoyed in this otherwise dull fiasco about an entity with the most unoriginal intentions. With rather erratic and generally bad editing — mostly because it feels like an extended music video, it moves around so much and again, another credited role performed by Mr. Lincoln — the narrative suddenly starts to move quite rapidly, as one scary event is quickly followed by another, making our primary focus of the movie on being scared and essentially ignoring if the couple will weather this supernatural storm.
To the young director's credit though — yes, there is at least one area of this dreck worth admiring — he presents these various tricks of the trade with a good creative touch and a visual style that promises a healthy career. He approaches the material with an excellent sense of what generates a suspenseful environment, and he nicely drags a scene to its breaking point, delivering the jump scares with great effect and at the right moment. Spooky noises throughout the house are balanced with visually impressive sequences of a closet with clothes tied in knots and living-room furniture melding into the house. We can forgive one scene that liberally steals from the J-horror formula because the lead up to that scare was very well-done and hilariously twisted. The final moments, although a bit confusing because it implies Costco has some important role in all this, are well-executed and brisk, leaving viewers with a healthy dose of creepiness.
As for the performances, it's typical facial reactions from the cast, followed by hysteria and eventual mental breakdown. 'Twilight' franchise star Ashley Greene trades her glittery make-up, blood-red eyes and her psychic foresight in favor of acting the damsel-in-distress — rejecting her boyfriend at one point, but then realizing she needs him for protection. It's not quite to the point of offensive, but it's neither a very strong portrayal of a young woman with a career. Although the cast does include others like Sebastian Stan and Rick Gomez is a very small role, much of the movie feels like an attempt to make Greene the next Kristen Stewart star. That or Green is taking too many acting cues from Stewart. Still, Greene doesn't well in the role and is easy on the eyes, giving audience one final positive to an otherwise forgettable supernatural horror dreck.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'The Apparition' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The first is a Region Free, BD-25 disc while the second is a DVD-9 copy of the movie. Both sit comfortably on opposing panels inside a blue, eco-vortex keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. A couple skippable trailers commence at startup, and then switch to a generic main menu window with a static photo of the cover art and music.
'The Apparition' debuts on Blu-ray with a mostly good but also distractingly inconsistent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode.
Framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the color palette and timing wavers noticeably from natural and accurate to slightly drained and toneless. It's never quite clear if this is intentional since the changes never properly reflect the on-screen action. Skin tones are also affected by these fluctuations, as they appear healthy one moment and suddenly sickly pale the next, often within the same scene. Black levels waver considerably in several areas, looking rich and deep for a good chunk of the time. At its worst, poorly-lit interiors are flat with dark-grey shadows engulfing small background objects into obscurity.
Some of the presentation's better parts come by way of strong contrast, but this, too, changes from scene to scene although whites remain clean and bright. The video is highly-detailed and defined, showing a good deal of visible information. Facial complexions and clothing are revealing and distinct. However, there is also a fair amount of softness and a few spots look poorly resolved. Outdoor exteriors are basically the high-def transfer's best segments in terms of picture quality, but this doesn't bode well for a movie with lots of nighttime sequences and deep, dark shadows.
The clear winner in this dry spook-fest is a wickedly fun DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which makes excellent use of the surrounds to generate a creepy environment. The rears are generally reserved, of course, for when the unknown spirit tries to make an appearance, and when it happens, it's spectacular, complemented by the noticeable amount of silence between scares. Directionality and pans are flawless, as footsteps, whispers, chuckles and wind move from one speaker to the next with amazing grace and ease. Although not all that scary really, the creepiest moments are immersive and enjoyably terrifying.
In the front soundstage, the lossless mix feels broad and expansive, creating a wonderful wall of sound that's nearly consistent from beginning to end. Much of the track's success is largely thanks to the original and highly enjoyable musical score by tomandandy, who cleverly sneak in a few notes from Q Lazzarus's "Goodbye Horses" into the movie, which was way cool. The music bleeds into the side speakers to great effect as well. With a sharply-detailed and extensive mid-range, dynamics and acoustics are room-penetrating with crystal-clear clarity and fidelity. The low-end is quite powerful and commanding, reaching some great depths in a few spots, which can rattle walls along with the couch. Amid all this, dialogue is very well-prioritized and intelligible at all times, making this soundtrack the horror movie's only real highlight worth checking out.
Making his feature-length debut, Todd Lincoln makes great use of surround sound technology to generate scares in 'The Apparition,' but he fails to establish a story that engages the audience. With 'Twilight' star Ashley Greene in the lead, the movie comes with some mildly enjoyable moments, but it ends as another forgettable supernatural horror flick. The Blu-ray arrives with video quality that fluctuates between excellent and mediocre, but the audio presentation is a genuine highlight. Supplemental material is very light, and with particular focus on paranormal investigator Joshua P. Warren, but the overall package is an average release that will only appease the few fans out there. Otherwise, this is a rental at best.