‘The Apparition’’ begins with near-scholarly specificity. An introduction informs us that on May 21, 1973, a group of researchers conducted “The Charles Experiment,’’ an attempt to summon the spirit of a dead man by that name (Charles, not Experiment). To those of us in the audience who might be strangers in paranormal precincts, it looks suspiciously like a séance.
Then a second introduction follows. Some years later, three college students arm themselves with an impressive battery of electronic devices (let’s hope they got a discount at Best Buy) and set out to reproduce the experiment. What’s with kids these days? They should be drinking to excess or playing video games or eating sickening quantities of junk food. Any of those popular youthful activities would have a happier outcome than their efforts in the laboratory.
What they found, one of the students later explains, wasn’t a ghost or demon but an “entity.’’ The student is played by Tom Felton, best known as Draco Malfoy, in the “Harry Potter’’ films. It sure seems weird to see him without white hair.
The lab sequence is full of fast-and-furious editing, jittery camerawork, and lots of images seen on video monitors. Everything is dark and disorienting, so it’s impossible to see what becomes of the entity. Where did it go?
Nothing is dark and disorienting about the bright sunshine of the Southern California community that’s home to Kelly (Ashley Greene, from the “Twilight’’ movies) and Ben (Sebastian Stan, from “Gossip Girl’’). They live together in a McMansion owned by her parents, who bought the place as an investment.
Ah, but are Kelly and Ben the only ones living there? Strange things start to happen. Furniture moves of its own accord. Locked doors somehow get open. Yucky stuff starts to grow on counters and ceilings. The clothes in Kelly’s walk-in closet, which is roughly the size of Delaware, are suddenly torn and twisted. Lights flash on and off. Could the problem be electro-magnetic in nature? There certainly seem to be a lot of high-tension lines in the town.
“Watch out for spiders!’’ Kelly helpfully says when Ben enters the crawl space beneath the house to investigate. When he installs a set of surveillance cameras and they’re mysteriously disabled, he takes it in stride. Ben is a guy who just won’t take yes for an answer. “Houses make weird noises,’’ he suggests. “Maybe some animal got inside.’’ Well, yes, depending on how similar your definitions of “animal’’ and “entity’’ are.
“The Apparition’’ is utterly forgettable except for two things. Well, three, if you’re a Red Sox fan (Kelly and Ben’s neighbor is the spitting image of Jason Varitek). The first thing is silly. For a brief scene, the entity picks up one of the surveillance cameras and through it we get an entity-eye view of the world: ghost cam!
The second thing is a true inspiration on the part of writer-director Todd Lincoln. “The Apparition’’ is the first Great Recession horror movie. Kelly and Ben live in a development full of other McMansions, all but one of them empty. “Our house is too new to be haunted,’’ Kelly complains to Ben. “It has no history.’’ Having no history can be even more haunting than too much of it. The entity is a ghostly presence amid an even ghostlier absence. This is truly distressed real estate.