JULY 27, 2009
I can’t quite recall where I heard about Apartment 1303, or even if the review was positive or not (I thought it was in Rue Morgue but a quick check against the last 5-6 issues proved fruitless). Since there is no remake, it’s relatively obscure here in the States (its Wikipedia page is laughably slim - it basically asserts that the film exists and nothing else), which is a shame as I think it’s one of the better ones of the “Angry ghost” genre.
For starters, it makes sense. The ending gets a tad puzzling (was everyone besides our heroine a goddamn ghost for the entire movie?) but I’d rather be confused at the end rather than throughout the entire movie, only to have it all explained in a flurry of exposition, the way the Ju-On films tend to operate (and even then I’m still a bit baffled). And even though we’re still dealing with vengeful ghosts, the actual story is a bit unique. Seems this pair is of a mother and daughter who had the least healthy relationship this side of Joan Crawford, which draws a parallel to our heroine, who has her own mother issues (exacerbated by the seeming suicide of her sister) to deal with. Unlike many of its peers, Apartment 1303 actually takes time to develop its characters, which made it easier to forgive the familiarity of the horror scenes. And Noriko Nakagoshi is terrific in the lead; there’s a scene where she watches a home movie of her sister and begins wailing (good score here too) that’s really sad to watch - both in a “oh that’s sad that she misses her sister” way as well as a “Wow, I think this is the first time I’ve seen a character show an emotion besides fear in one of these movies” way.
Also she smokes. I hate smoking and will gladly berate a complete stranger who makes the inane request for a light, but since the habit has been phased out of movies (except for the RAVs, of course) it’s sort of charming in a way when a filmmaker doesn’t conform to the style. People do and always will smoke - seeing someone in a film do it actually grounds it in reality (as opposed to not smoking and causing a distraction, such as John McClane’s lack of a butt break in Die Hard Faux).
Another thing I dug about the movie was how short it was. Finally, a 90 minute (and some change) Asian horror film! Then again, I don’t see how it could be any longer; it’s sort of a thin premise (all the action is limited to the title “character”) and since only people that live in it end up dead, there’s only so many times a character can move in and instantly kill themselves before even the most skeptic movie character would order the place to be permanently sealed off. Indeed, late in the movie a new set of girls moves in, and while it’s nice to see 3 kills for the price of 1, I still got a sense of “Really? Again?”
But the end goes all out like a Poltergeist movie. Director Ataru Oikawa (he did all those Tomie films people keep telling me to watch) cranks the fog machines to 11, a ghost with crazy tendril like hair begins dragging people around, lots of yelling, lots of ghosts... as I said, I wasn’t quite sure what the hell was going on, but after the rather slow first 80 minutes, it’s a welcome spectacle. And another downer ending, which you all know I always love.
My only real complaint is that the heroine never rents the place herself. I was kind of hoping for a 1408 style setup, where she finally decides to “see for herself” and we spend the last part of the movie with her in the apartment, fighting off the supernaturally charged desire to jump out the window, with the ghost hitting her with everything she had. A more typical haunted house scenario would not only be less repetitive, but it would also help the film gain its own identity outside of all the Ju-Ons and Shutter and One Missed Call (more bad mothers!) type films that everyone’s probably already seen.
The disc has no extras (phew!), but I did discover from the Blockbuster envelope that the film is based on a book. If it has been translated, I wouldn’t mind reading it, provided it’s as “to the point” as the film. I don’t need another 700 page epic to add to my collection.
What say you?