For a space mission that never happened, Apollo 18 has a unique place in pop culture. It’s been the name of a record, a videogame, an indie rock band, and less-than-stellar found footage horror movie. Now it’s the subject of faux-documentary, The Landing, which screens at the Seattle International Film Festival.
It feels like mockumentaries usually take the form of Spinal Tap or FUBAR, where the cameras follow the subjects doing whatever it is they do. The Landing frames things more like a History Channel glimpse into the past, with archival footage, interviews with survivors, news clippings, and even reenactments. And for the most part, it pulls this stance off convincingly. Some obvious PhotoShop and using Robert Pine from CHiPs—the only recognizable face in the cast—are the biggest missteps, which crack the otherwise convincing reality writer/directors Mark and David Dodson construct.
The story goes like this: in 1973, Apollo 18, the final manned lunar landing, has trouble on reentry and lands in the Takla Makan desert in the middle of China. Before rescue teams can arrive, two crew members die under mysterious circumstances. 25 years later, The Landing digs into the story, which grows increasingly outlandish as it goes. Some laud pilot Bo Cunningham as a hero for being able to land the capsule at all, while others claim he was on the communist payroll, landed in China on purpose, and murdered the other two cosmonauts.
If The Landing was a real documentary, it would make a compelling watch. And as a work of fiction, it’s not bad either. It’s well structured, doling the mystery out over the course of the film, and Cunningham evolves from heroic pilot to unlikable murder suspect. There’s obviously not much of a budget, but it never feels cheap, and while the mystery could be deeper, the film leaves the viewer to decide whether or not to buy what it’s selling. [Grade: B+]