The Apparition posits that on May 21, 1973, six college students interested in paranormal psychology sought to contact the spirit of one Charles Reamer, deceased. The grainy, creepy film of what happened, which became known as The Reamer Experiment, shows a table bouncing and lights flickering as, presumably, Reamer obliged their intent.
Suffice it to say that things did not go well.
Nearly 40 years later, another group of young paranormal psychology students is eager to re-create the experiment, trying once more to summon Reamer. Instead of traditional occult means, however, they use technology to amplify their thoughts, their willful intent being to drag him out of the netherworld and back into ours.
The group's leader, a young man named Patrick, is especially eager to prove via scientific instruments that otherworldly, supernatural forces exist. Reamer—if it is even him—doesn't seem to care if the means are spiritual or technological; he once again obliges them, this time yanking a young woman named Lydia into his ghostly, otherworldly abode.
Fast-forward three more years, and a young couple, Ben and Kelly, are moving into a new house together. It's not long before strange things begin happening. A weird burn mark appears on the counter. A dresser moves on its own. Kelly's clothes are tied into a knot in the closet. Doors open in the night after being locked. The neighbors' little dog wanders into their pantry … and promptly dies.
Then there are all those calls and emails Ben has been avoiding. Calls from someone named … Patrick. Emails with ominous titles like "Second Attempt at Containment Failed," "You Are Not Safe" and "Call Me Now."
Soon Kelly uncovers her boyfriend's secret: He was one of the students who tried to summon Reamer the second time, but instead helped open a gateway for something else altogether. And that something else's power, Patrick eventually tells them, is amplified by electricity.
No wonder the camera keeps showing us long, panning shots of power lines draped across huge towers … practically in Ben and Kelly's backyard.
Ben, Kelly and Patrick try to help one another resist the apparition, with Patrick telling them what they need to know—he hopes—to resist and the close the spiritual rift he and his friends have opened.
Lengthy explanations from Patrick unpack the spiritual realities he's been able to discern. He believes there's another spiritual dimension, which he labels Purgatory, that's home to the spirits of deceased humans and to malevolent spiritual forces that desperately desire access to our world. Patrick says that they want to feed on humans, and that they pursue specific individuals in a devilish effort to torment them and learn all they can from them before they finally pull them physically and spiritually back into their realm.
Patrick pairs that spiritual theory with a good bit of Ghostbusters-style mumbo jumbo about trying to contain them by reversing the same kind of energy that was initially used to free the being that's been haunting them. Patrick explains that the ghoulies' power is amplified by electrical currents, and that the same electricity they use as conduits (it seems) can also be used against them, to contain them again.
[Spoiler Warning] Patrick's theory doesn't work, much to everyone's detriment. And the film ends with more pictures of power lines, implying that the rift that's been opened is one that these entities will now exploit to torment more and more human beings—if not the entire race.
Ben and Kelly have just moved in together and act a lot like a newlywed couple overflowing with attraction and affection. Sex is talked about. Ben pulls Kelly's button-down shirt down to give her a back rub (she's wearing a bikini top), and their conversation hints that more might happen later. And it's not the only time the couple starts to head toward more intimacy. They kiss twice, and Kelly playfully slaps Ben's backside.
Kelly frequently wears low-cut tops. Ben's shown shirtless. Kelly's shown getting ready to take a shower, the camera watching her remove her shorts and shirt. Inside the shower we see her arms and torso. Outside we see her form through a shower curtain. She dons a skimpy camisole and panties afterward.
Spine-tingling jump scenes involving the spiritual entity's assault of Ben and Kelly (and others) all put possess this film. A couple of creepier examples: An ashen female form (resembling Kelly) crawls out of a mirror toward her. Grimy, gray fingers wrap around her and yank her out of a tent.
Ben sustains a slight wound, leaving a bit of blood on him and on a ceiling. Four characters eventually get pulled into the spiritual darkness on the "other side." In two instances, the people are just gone, as if yanked instantly into a black fog. In the other two cases, victims are trapped momentarily between this world and that one before being pulled through. One guy's mouth is stretched unnaturally wide before he goes through.
The entity pulls a bed sheet over Kelly's head, after which it constricts, vacuum-like, around her and nearly suffocates her. The dog in the pantry simply lies down and dies.
[Spoiler Warning] We hear that of the six people who conducted the original Reamer experiment, two died, three disappeared and one committed suicide. Kelly doesn't commit suicide per se, but she is eventually so worn down by the apparition's constant assaults on her that she essentially gives up and allows herself to be taken as tears stream down her face.
Crude or Profane Language
One or two s-words. One use of "b‑‑ch," two of "d‑‑n" and four or five of "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused two or three times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Ben, Kelly and Patrick all drink beer in the couple's home.
Other Negative Elements
For much of the film, Ben hides the fact that he participated in the experiment that freed the apparition in the first place. And when Kelly finds out, he tries to rationalize it by saying it was to protect her.
One of the physical manifestations of the paranormal activity in Kelly and Ben's house is mold-like nastiness on the floor and elsewhere. As the story progresses, the spirit's activities result in the production of disgusting, rotting hives of filth.
The Apparition feels like an odd blend of The Exorcist and Poltergeist, and a little Ghostbusters too. And by way of its insistence that malevolent spiritual beings are very real and that humans are no match for them, I suppose you could say it offers a kind of cautionary tale: Don't expect it to stay bright and cheery when you're messing with the dark side.
If you wanted to push things another step closer to spiritual truth, you might draw some broad parallels between the demonic-feeling spirit world onscreen and what the New Testament has to say about the reality of spiritual warfare. In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul writes, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
The film itself, however, never actually goes in that spiritual direction, nor does it ever suggest anything other than (failed) scientific strategies for spooking the specters. It's far too busy concocting all manner of jump scenes for humans to worry over the theological implications—or even the logical implications—of its infernal imps.
"To me, it's like this ultimate trick," first-time director Todd Lincoln, a self-proclaimed lifelong horror aficionado, told Entertainment Weekly. "There's no getting around it, with that kind of cast [which includes Twilight actress Ashley Greene and Harry Potter alum Tom Felton], their fans are going to come out. So I decided to make things even more terrifying. There's something exciting about that idea of getting them in there, and they think they're going to be safe because they know the actors, and then they find out very quickly that they are not safe. That they are in trouble. It'll be interesting to terrorize the kids and make them have to sleep with the lights on."
Terrorize, yes. But worse may be The Apparition's absolute insistence that there is no spiritual hope at all … for anyone.
A postscript: The Apparition's trailers indicate that the supernatural being unleashed in the film is created by the characters' belief in it. "Once you believe, you die," we're told. In actuality, though, there's very little correlation between how advertising represents the film's basic premise and what happens onscreen.