As the word ‘Apparition’ fades from the screen after the opening scene, the word ‘App’ is left hanging, inviting the audience to phonetically think of the title as ‘App-arition’. This implies that there will be some sort of smartphone technology involved, and the plot does indeed depend on the use of an app that connects people to their dead relatives. It’s a conceit that definitely has potential. The paranormal possibilities of 21st century technology have been explored in a slew of films in the 2010s, including Unfriended (Gabriadze, 2014) and Friend Request (Verhoeven, 2016), stretching all the way back to Takashi Miike’s One Missed Call in 2003.
Unfortunately, the app itself doesn’t appear until 30 minutes into the film, after a lot of laborious exposition deflates all tension and interest. The narrative set-up involves a boy who is sent to a reformatory ‘school’ after his drug-addled mother accidentally kills herself while trying to attack him with a knife. Disastrously for the boy and luckily for the plot, the school is ran by a group of sadistic guards under the governance of a sociopathic warden who is apathetic about killing the children in his care. The film then speeds 20 years into the future, on the night before the warden’s son is to be married to the daughter of one of the school’s guards.
Institutional neglect is used here as a convenient plot device, an easy way to provoke an audience’s anger at characters who are otherwise criminally underwritten and mostly off-screen until the final underwhelming denouement. Kevin Pollak deserves better than roles like Warden White. He tries to be unsettling and deplorable but is given so little to do as an archetypal despot that it is difficult to even care about the retribution he theoretically deserves. As the other star name of the film, Mena Suvari has an equally futile job to imbue her victimhood as a murdered school housekeeper with any pathos or credible vengefulness.
This is Waymon Boone’s first foray into horror cinema, and his lack of passion for it shows. Rather than approaching the genre from an original perspective, his direction is bland and uninspired. The posters of his last two films ‘Sunrise in Heaven’ and ‘My Daddy’s in Heaven’ are nausea-inducing enough to presume that they are far more horrifying than anything in this film. Cobbled together by four writers, including Boone, it has all the marks of a film made by committee, where compromises are constantly made as no individual is committed enough to the project.
Lots of apps are either useful, informative, fun, or a combination of all three, but most are just attention sinkholes, a way to waste time when doing something dull, like commuting or spending time with loved ones. Sadly, Apparition fits perfectly into the latter category, a fair concept thoughtlessly developed into a terrible film that is barely worth watching on a bus in a rush-hour traffic jam.