The ads for “The Apparition” tell us it’s about how believing in supernatural events can make them real. The finished film, on the other hand, never once says anything about belief or non-belief. There’s only a lot of generic talk about summoning some dark, evil force from “the other side.” Already, we have a huge problem, namely that people will pay to see a film founded on a premise conjured up by a studio marketing department rather than by the filmmakers. Did they know their movie was being so grossly misrepresented, that the prominent tagline, “Once you believe, you die,” does not factor into the storyline as they conceived it? This is the most infuriating display of bait-and-switch advertizing since “Case 39,” the long-delayed supernatural thriller about a demonic little girl in the care of Renée Zellweger.
But suppose “The Apparition” hadn’t relied on a deceptive ad campaign, that its actual premise had been used to entice audiences. What then? Not much, I’m afraid. Here is a horror movie so narratively tepid, so stylistically derivative, and so conceptually vague that one wonders if it began with anything resembling a screenplay. It has plenty in the way of atmosphere but virtually nothing in the way of plot, character development, theme, or insight. The thrills, while technically competent, are mediocre at best, all drawn from the likes of other, more original, and in most cases more successful horror films. This means that, nine times out of ten, we can see a scare coming long before it finally arrives. Unfortunately, this level of predictability doesn’t extend to the overall story, which doesn’t even try to be understandable.
We open with Super 8 footage of a paranormal experiment conducted in the 1970s, when a group of people sitting around a table somehow summoned an entity from “the other side.” This manifestation, known as The Charles Experiment, was successfully recreated decades later by a group of college students, who had an arsenal of high tech equipment at their disposal. We see their efforts courtesy of their own home video footage; rest assured, the Queasy Cam is utilized, and there’s a lot of screaming in the darkness. Flash forward to what I assume is the present day. We meet a young couple, veterinarian-in-training Kelly (Ashley Greene) and tech-company service rep Ben (Sebastian Stan). They begin noticing strange things happening in their new house, such as doors open by themselves without tripping the burglar alarm, lights flickering, mysterious thuds, and large patches of mold growing spontaneously in odd places.