“APARTMENT 1303″ (Movie Review)
For all save the tiniest minority of urban dwellers, compromises when it comes to securing decent living space are a fact of life; an intricate calculus weighing variables of location, price, relative state of decay, and security to see how close one can sneak up on the ideal.
Perfect solutions are, of course, rare. And, yet, it remains difficult to sympathize with the plight of compulsive selfie-snapper Janet Slade (Julianne Michelle) in APARTMENT 1303, a young woman who refuses to consider breaking a new lease despite a move-in day that includes several unsubtle harbingers of doom:
• A mysteriously appearing and disappearing preteen sourpuss clad in a nineteenth century schoolmarm get-up who believes the best response to a new neighbor’s pleasantries is a scowl, un-contextualized tales of death and woe about unsolved calamities in said neighbor’s apartment, and a hissed hey-wait-aren’t-you-a-kid? command to “Go away.” Also, her approach to bouncing a rubber ball in the hallway is très creepy.
• A disheveled building super more than a little befuddled as to what his tenant meet-and-greet duties entail. (Pretty sure when he jams his foot in a closing door and says, “Show me your tits,” he’s doing it wrong.)
• A general lighting and color scheme that would make the atmosphere in the dreamscape boiler room over at Krueger Industries appear welcoming and convivial in comparison.
• A wispy, malevolent, unsettling presence that arrives accompanied by the stench of rotting flesh—and, one might surmise from its proclivity for steaming in the shower, a concurrent dearth of hot water for Janet. A few short hours into the residency this apparition ragdolls its new roommate into a wall, presumably in lieu of a nightcap. (In fairness to the spook, Janet does sleep like a log afterward. A very bruised, comatose, pretty log.)
Now, granted, Janet’s country music has-been mother (Rebecca De Mornay) is a mean drunk and, yes, Janet is understandably reluctant to prove her haughty, scolding sister Lana (Mischa Barton) right, but this is a case in which the ’83 Eddie Murphy Haunted House Rule clearly applies: “If there’s a ghost in the house, get the fuck out.” (If only Murphy heeded his own warning when the script for THE HAUNTED MANSION came across his desk!) Those who choose to stay the fuck in, though, for whatever reason, should probably devise a better plan than, “Hey, I’ll just get my boyfriend to sleepover!”
Because if there’s one thing a ghost fears more than an exorcism, it is PG-13 living room sex. Or not.
Naturally, things don’t end well for Janet and in the aftermath of her demise, Lana decides the only way to figure out what really happened to Janet is to… take over the lease. That’s despite an exposition-dropping detective who conveniently lays out for her the ridiculous number of twenty-something young women who perished under mysterious circumstances in the very same apartment.
“Apartments don’t kill people,” the detective deadpans. “People kill people.”
Okay, so maybe this guy ain’t exactly Kolchak, but what follows isn’t really his fault. It is pretty clear Lana is going to do Lana, with predictable results.
APARTMENT 1303 is a remake of a 2007 Japanese horror film of the same name—from a story by JU-ON author Kei Ohishi—which, in practice, translates here to a ghost that struggles to keep her lolling head upright and scurries around with that trademark jittery J-horror gait.
Alas, the film doesn’t ultimately lease out much fear to the audience. The supernatural manifestations are brief and not infused with enough suspense to build any true dread; the CGI is spotty and evanescent. Casting possesses a lot of camp potential, but, honestly, Barton’s tripped-out, drug-fueled nightmare Tijuana odyssey during the first season of THE O.C. featured more convincing, scarier moments. Meanwhile, De Mornay, not so far removed from an exquisite, legit menacing HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE-esque scenery chewing in the 2010 MOTHER’S DAY remake, stumbles over the line between wink-wink funny and overwrought a bit too often in her portrayal of a faux bohemian lush. Not to mention, is so ridiculously attired the sinister intentions of the costume designer seem to occasionally rival those of the apartment ghost. (Shimmer shirt! With Scarf! With knee-high boots! Mock martini! And…action!)
The movie exhibits the germ of something that could potentially be a lot of fun on Saturday night basic cable. Problem is, its higher aspirations are a gauntlet thrown in the way of a deviously barmy romp.