Monday, October 8, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Apartment 1303 (2007)

Apartment 1303 is yet another Japanese ghost tale set in some sort of apartment. It revolves around a restless spirit doing far too much damage for something incorporeal and unreal. And by my quickened tone and brisk pacing of the words you are reading at this very moment, you may be able to tell that I'm a little sick of the Japanese ghost story genre. They do this same kind of story far too often to be scary, thrilling, or fun anymore. When the only Japanese horror movie I had ever seen was The Ring and the original Ringu, I was perfectly fine. The movies both worked quite well, but now after watching countless Japanese horror movies, I find myself sick of young girls haunting and being murderous to other young girls. I know it's part of the mythology of Japan, part of the culture, but it makes for very uninteresting movies at times.

I mean, yes, some of the movies shake it up. The Ring movies pioneered the genre and were really special because of that. A few of the movies of this type I've been more positive on (like The Haunted Apartments) are good because they do change things up, maybe changing the tone or having some kind of twist or something... but I'm finding myself getting bored by these movies, being able to tell everything that will happen from beginning to end, yawning endlessly because I want to see something creative, something different... something meaningful. Is that so much to ask? I guess it must be.

Oh boy. This movie tells the story of a haunted apartment. If you could here my voice right now reading these sentences to you, it would be as if I were falling asleep and dying a little bit with every passing word. Keep that in mind. The apartment is haunted and young women just keep dying. Every time one of them dies, it's incredibly obvious that that particular girl is going to die. They just jump for some reason off of the thirteenth floor and nobody ever really tries to stop them or anything. Nope. These girls are too wily and too fast. No man can even hope to restrain a small Japanese girl. I'm sorry if I'm being a little offensive here, but there has to be some element of reality here. A ghost isn't just going to make a chick commit suicide (kind of?) right in front of her friends or significant other. A ghost will drive the girl mad over time, having her jump while she's both alone and vulnerable. Having it happen in full view of other people makes the suicide less shocking and sillier than it has any right to be.

There are some shocking moments in the film, and yes, it can be somewhat creepy when it isn't obvious and predictable, but it has trouble staying consistent. The plot is so easy to predict that it's absolutely laughable. I could predict jump scares and crazy scenes, moments of blood, or whatever else... and it really took away from any immersion I could have had in this movie. All I wanted to do was curl up and fall asleep because the movie was so much less interesting than anything else.

...fine... I'm being a little harsh here, but I'm going through a lot with these movies, okay? This movie in particular put me through hell by reminding me of 1408, one of my favorite horror stories and horror movies, but being terrible in basically every way that 1408 is good. Hell, even the wall crumbling bits at the end were worse in this film. And the death/suicide scenes were so much less shocking and so much schlockier. That's a word now by the way. A comparative of schlocky, which is the adjective form of schlock. Oh boy, when will this movie get out of my brain?

The ending was awful, making the entire movie pointless. It was needlessly confusing at points. The acting was inconsistent, with some actors doing okay and others going over-the-top. The ghosts are never scary despite the fact that they are MURDEROUS GHOSTS, POSSESSING GIRLS AND MAKING THEM PLUMMET TO THEIR DEATHS. Those kind of entities should be the MOST terrifying rather than silly and hard to take seriously.

The direction of the film, by Ataru Oikawa, is pretty decent though despite my complaints. The deaths scenes are pretty horrid, but the movie has very good lighting for its genre, and if there were no noises in the film, no voices, no awkward sounds, etc. I could see the film being quite effective for the little tension it does have. Some of the gorier effects are also well done, especially of note is the chewed-on bloody bottle that becomes a minor plot point. I found myself kind of shying away from that image, finding it fairly well done.

The story though is... well, not good. It involves an abusive mother and her daughter. The daughter eventually kills the mother, then as she's about to lose everything, she kills herself. The mother's body, for some reason, isn't found until after the girl's suicide. You'd think it would smell or something... Then a series of girls move into the apartment. The ones that have the apartment as their first place of living once they leave home soon find themselves dead, killed by the jealous girl who could never get out from under her mother's thumb, in life or in death. The main character of the movie, Mariko, eventually is introduced as the sister of one of the false protagonists in the beginning of the film, Sayaka. Sayaka has killed herself by jumping from the balcony of the apartment while her friends and boyfriend look on with horror on their faces. Mariko investigates, eventually finding out the truth with the help of a friendly (and kind of creepy in a weird pervert way) detective. (Maybe it's just me. He gave me a weird vibe in the movie.) Mariko finds some common ground with the ghost girl in that they have similar relationships with their mothers, but all of that is for nothing. All of Mariko's character development, all of the searching for the plot... yeah, that's all meaningless the second Mariko is killed by the ghost and all of her knowledge dies with her.

I don't even want to talk about this movie anymore. It's not a bad movie necessarily, and some might even really enjoy it. It does have quality to it despite my complaints, but I almost dislike this movie viscerally, finding most of it unimaginative and utterly devoid of any emotions from any of the characters. It's the same as so many other Japanese ghost horror movies, and I'm sick to death of watching these kinds of movies. I don't suspect I'll be watching too many more unless there are some that really switch up the formulaic approach that most of these movies take. I can't and won't recommend this movie. Go watch 1408 for a better movie with a similar plot. Go watch The Haunted Apartments if you want an utterly better Japanese ghost story that has to do with apartments... if that's your thing. I mean, it's an oddly specific genre to like, but I won't judge. I love space horror movies that take place in space, on a spaceship, and psychological horror that involves little to no psychology. I'm not one to judge.

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