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Published: Wednesday, 8/29/2012

'Apparition': not a ghost of a chance

Director Todd Lincoln. Director Todd Lincoln.

The Apparition wafts out of the ether like the ghosts of bad movies past, the very picture of the cinema's Dog Days of August.

It's a Paranormal Activity knockoff, without the found footage conceit. And it's science vs. ghosts, in a limp salute to Paranormal and Ghostbusters before it.

Ashley Greene of Twilight and Sebastian Stan of Captain America play a young couple who find themselves living in a haunted house in a mostly-foreclosed desert subdivision.

They lock doors and, in a fit of subtlety, the camera zooms in as they lock them.

"Why are the doors open?" one asks the other later.

Furniture moves, the fridge is trashed. Something's up. As in Paranormal Activity, one of them knows what it is and might be said to be "responsible" for it.

But "We can't just abandon our house." So they don't. Besides, the "responsible" one knows that won't help.

In an alarmingly banal prologue, we see silent archival footage of a 1970s "scientific seance" in which a table levitated. We also see students later copy this "Charles Experiment" to "prove that ghosts do exist."

So the student-scientist who uttered that line, played by Tom Felton, may have the answers. Will Harry Potter's nemesis, Draco Malfoy, save the sexiest of the vampire Cullens of Twilight?

You're way ahead of me, aren't you?

Writer-director Todd Lincoln could be forgiven for borrowing from Paranormal and its clones, if he had a clue about how to generate frights. He doesn't. Apparition makes us realize just how hard it is to master that combination of knowing which lens to use, when to cut, where to cast shadows, and how to stage shocks.

His actors aren't any help. Greene's performance as Kelly is seriously flat and unemotional, considering she's supposed to be scared out of her wits. Lincoln helps her by writing a shower scene, followed by an Ashley in a nighty scene.

Stan also so underplays his character, Ben, that we neither share their fear, nor fear for them.

The effects are as generic as the cookie-cutter mission revival house the film is set in. The soundtrack, by tomandandy, is a sort of cinematic spooky house music -- overly insistent and incessant.

When The Apparition ends, as perfunctorily as it begins, all you can do is be happy August is almost over and the horror films that studios are more satisfied with will be here by Halloween.

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