THE APPARITION – Blu-ray review

You have to wonder why studios lavish enormous sums of money on films written and directed by people who have never made a full-length film before.  Maybe they’re expecting another “Citizen Kane.”  What they got from first-time big-screen writer-director Todd Lincoln’s 2012 horror movie “The Apparition” was a huge box-office loss.  Maybe they’ll make some of it up in DVD, BD, download, and TV sales, we’ll see, but given the quality of the film, I wouldn’t count on it.

As usual these days, “The Apparition” filmmakers want us to believe that all of this nonsense really happened, so they begin the movie with some fake home-movie shots of a seance gone bad in 1973.  They show us a group of paranormal researchers (a few people sitting around a table) trying to bring the spirit of a dead colleague, Charles Reamer, back to our world.  Forever after, ghost hunters call it the “Reamer Experiment.”  Whether it succeeded or not we never find out.

Fast forward to the present, where another group of psychic investigators–Patrick (Tom Felton), Ben (Sebastian Stan), and Ben’s girlfriend Lydia (Julianna Guill)–try to replicate the Reamer Experiment, this time using what appears to be about a million dollars’ worth of fancy electronic equipment.  The disastrous result of this new experiment is that Lydia disappears completely; Patrick holes up in his laboratory, clinging for safety to his high-tech toys; and Ben calmly goes about his business, taking up with a new girlfriend, Kelly (Ashley Greene), in her parents’ upscale home in the middle of nowhere; they have only a single neighbor in an entire housing tract.  How and why Ben escaped the experiment that appears to have taken the life of Lydia and scared Patrick to high heaven is anybody’s guess.

You can imagine what happens next.  Ben and his friends had raised the spirit or ghost or entity or whatever of some malevolent spirit and brought it into our world, where it seems intent on wreaking as much havoc as possible on Ben and Patrick.  Now, you’d think that even if this entity were pure evil, it might at least show a little gratitude toward Ben and Patrick for having released it.  Or maybe it just got pissed off that these fellows made it return to our world; maybe it was pleasantly going about its business on the other side when these intruders into its life forced it to return where it didn’t want to be.  Who knows.  Certainly not writer-director Lincoln, whose script seems as lost about the movie’s issues as the audience is.

Anyway, what happens next is that once the entity gets into our world, all it wants to do is haunt Ben and Patrick.  Except that poor Tom Felton as Patrick only gets about two minutes of screen time, with the film’s main emphasis on Ben and Kelly and their tract house.  Think here of “Poltergeist” but without any of the fun.

Basically, a plot is nonexistent.  The ghost makes some creepy noises in the night, opens a few doors and windows, creates some mold (nothing scarier than mold), scratches the walls, and tangles up a few pieces of clothing.  You know you’re in trouble when the biggest fright in the film comes from a little neighbor girl.

The acting in “The Apparition” is generally mediocre; the quick editing is tedious; the swirling camera shots are headache inducing; the story and character development are minimal.  Beyond knowing what these people look like and what they do for a living, we end up learning no more about them by the end of the film than we learned in the beginning.

Instead of a genuine story line, “The Apparition” asks us to sit and wait for something to happen.  And wait.  And wait.  The most-tense dialogue comes when Patrick says, “We brought it into our world.  Now it’s loose, it’s free!”  Ben goes after it with a baseball bat.  Kelly runs around the house in her underwear.  And the whole thing ends on possibly the dumbest note in recent film history.

Does the apparition have anything to do with old Charles Reamer?  We never find out.  Is the apparition some ancient evil presence or malicious energy?  Again, who knows.  Maybe like other films of its kind, “The Apparition” presumes that once a person dies, that person’s spirit immediately becomes evil; why else would ghosts always be so malevolent in ghost stories?  Or, as I say, maybe these ghosts just get peeved at being called back into a world they were glad to leave.

For anyone who reads about, follows, or studies paranormal phenomena (whether you believe in it or not), the movie makes no sense whatsoever.  As my friend, real-life parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach, wrote in his introduction to Movie Met’s “Poltergeist” review, “If that was the reality of what we investigate and encounter, I certainly would not have stayed in this field for as long as I have.  I’m brave, but I’m not stupid!”  I’m sure he would say the same in spades about “The Apparition.”

Here you’ll find a single-layer BD25 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec doing the work of transferring the movie to Blu-ray in the movie’s native aspect ratio, 2.40:1.  The overall appearance of the film looks very dark, and accordingly the transfer affords it some respectable black levels.  The dark shades persist throughout the film, however, both indoors and out, day and night, which gives it an odd, depressed, steel-gray aspect, which I can only hope the filmmakers intended.  Definition is so-so, and colors are not entirely natural because there aren’t too many of them.  It’s a gloomy picture all the way around.

Warner engineers use lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 to reproduce the sound, and it is by far the best part of the show.  Except for some dreadful pop music cranked up to the threshold of pain, the soundtrack works fine.  It displays a wide dynamic range, strong impact, sharply delineated sonics, good, taut bass, and a moderately effective use of the surrounds.

The extras begin with four brief featurettes.  The first is “The Apparition:  A Cinematic Specter,” about four minutes on the film’s doings.  The second is “The Dark Realm of Paranormal,” five minutes with ghost hunter Joshua Warren.  Next is “Haunted Asheville,” seven minutes on mysterious sites around the town of Asheville, North Carolina, with guide Joshua Warren again.  And the final featurette is “The Experiment of the Apparition,” eight minutes, as Warren tries to duplicate the experiment in the film.  Does he succeed?  What do you think?

The extras continue with eight scene selections; English, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages;
French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Finally, because this is a Combo Pack it contains not only the movie in high definition on Blu-ray but the movie in standard def on DVD and access to UltraViolet streaming and downloading (the latter offer expiring November 27, 2014).  The BD and DVD come housed in a flimsy Eco-case, further enclosed by a light-cardboard slipcover.

Parting Shots:
I like a good ghost story, but “The Apparition” is nothing like a good ghost story.  It’s more like a Syfy Channel reality show; you know, like one of those programs where they try to scare people in a darkened room.  There’s not much more plot or character development in “The Apparition,” either, and even fewer scares.