I usually try to avoid trailers before seeing a movie for fear that they might spoil important plot details or gear my expectations the wrong way. After all, these things are put together long before the final cut, and marketers have little care as to the director’s artistic ambitions as long as they can fill the seats on opening weekend. This might explain why the promo spots for The Apparition, along with the poster come to think of it, are so divorced from Todd Lincoln’s film, showcasing scenes and a premise that never made it into the end product.
I should start by describing the adverts, which boast the tagline, “Once you believe, you die.” We gather from lines like, “It’s like a virus. It knows you’re afraid,” and, “It spreads from one person to another,” that a group of parapsychologists have unleashed an otherworldly spirit that feeds on our fears. We then get shots of an out-of-body nightmare akin to those in A Nightmare in Elm Street (1984), a long-haired ghoul à la Ringu (1998), and found footage like in Paranormal Activity (2007). I surmised from these that Lincoln means to survey the horror genre and its various tropes throughout the years.
In fact, The Apparition centers on Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan), a young couple that moves into a new house (owned by her parents for some reason) and then refuses to do anything remotely sensible when it turns out to be haunted. A paranormal researcher (Tom Felton) shows up eventually, but his obligatory exposition pertains to the titular apparition’s age and relentlessness rather than the psychic consequences of belief. How the guy knows the creature predates demons is never explained, nor why he waits for our heroes to contact him before getting rid of it when he’s known of its existence all along.
To say the characters make nonsensical decisions would be an understatement. Even their subtler, throwaway reactions fail to reflect genuine human behaviour. Consider the scene in which Kelly puts away her clothes without looking and then misses the drawer by a few inches. She turns around perturbed: “Did… Did the dresser move on its own?” It did, of course, but a more rational conclusion would have been to assume she misevaluated her distance from the furniture. Later, the woman opts to kick her boyfriend out and stay in the house alone because he lied about it not hosting a malevolent spirit. Quick, somebody call Mensa!
It doesn’t help that Ashley Greene can’t deliver a single line without appearing like she’s reading a teleprompter at gunpoint. For the record, I happen to think the actress has got potential, what with her giving one of the few lively performances in 2009’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon and 2010’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (she sort of fades into the background in the other entries). Here, though, she comes off stiff and soulless. Part of it I blame on the filmmakers having her so dolled up as to look like a pageant mother’s Barbie figurine. Part of it I blame on her awkward exchanges, which seem stitched together from a longer, better screenplay.
You see, every once in a while, a production goes so awry that the head honchos have to step in and restructure a commercial feature out of incomplete footage. Ever noticed an established actor like, say, Rick Gomez disappear halfway into a movie even though his character got a lengthy introduction as the heroes’ only neighbour? It’d be fair to suspect the rest of his material lies in an earlier draft somewhere or on the cutting room floor. Another telltale sign is when the heroine walks into a store display and enters a tent for no apparent reason other than so that the setting matches camping shots already in the can.
Now, I don’t know whether that’s what happened with The Apparition, but it would explain why the trailers diverge so radically from the finished product. By the same token, Ben’s bizarre line about keeping Kelly in the dark because “in my own way, I was trying to protect you” makes an awful lot more sense in this context. The irony is that the movie would have proven more interesting if it’d kept its original premise by virtue of showing some semblance of ambition and purpose. Sometimes, even if it’s broke, one should think twice before fixing it.