Tartan Video // 2007 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // February 1st, 2008
Cower in fear of the smelly room of death!!
I have never felt as liberated as the day I first left home. Boarding the train from Eugene to Santa Fe, I made life changing decisions, some of which, I'm glad I made; some, I wish I could take back. It didn't matter if the choices were good or bad, because they were mine to make. Living without a net was exhilarating, and I was thrilled to be on the train. Two sleepless nights later, I arrived at the train station about thirty miles outside of Santa Fe, exhausted and irritable, looking at a landscape like I'd only seen in westerns. I didn't realize before I got there, but the train was late coming in and I'd missed the last shuttle to town. All of a sudden, with no money and no ride, that exhilaration turned to dread. Now, though I'd just celebrated its loss, that safety net was all I wished for. With nowhere to turn, I did what any reasonably eighteen year old would do: I hitched a ride with the first willing person who looked sane. Her name was Julie (I don't know why I remember that), she didn't kill me, and I never saw her again. I didn't realize it at the time, but that experience would be a very important lesson for use in later years.
So what's the point of my silly little story? Moving away from one's parents for the first time is an extremely liberating experience for everybody but, at the same time, can be frightfully lonely. There's no reason not to make a horror film based on this premise, but mixing in a random ghost does not make the story scarier. Why is my story like Apartment 1303? There is a good deal of setup for very little payoff.
Sayaka (Eriko Hatsune), all grown up and ready to strike out on her own, rents her first place a short distance from her family. She got a rock bottom rate on this place, a beautiful condo in a high-rise with an amazing view from the balcony, but she's not asking any questions. On her first night, she throws a party for her friends. While having the kind of wholesome fun that only a group of college teens can have, Sayaka smells the kind horrible stench that only a college teen's apartment can have. She follows the smell into the tatami room and opens the closet to find out that one of her friends didn't "do something" in there; something even weirder is causing this smell. Sayaka begins acting progressively more bizarre and, by the time she's on all fours eating out of the dog food bowl, her friends are pretty confused. This shock turns to horror when, all of a sudden, Sayaka gets up and bolts out the window, over the balcony, and to her bloody death.
Though her friends watched her jump, they agree with her sister Mariko (Noriko Nakagoshi) that there's no way Sayaka would have committed suicide, no matter what the officials say. Another force must have been at work. Her mother and friends are too devastated to investigate, but Mariko knows that crying won't bring Sayaka back and grief won't solve this case, so she looks into it herself. While at the apartment going through Sayaka's things, she smells an odor, feels a presence, and Sayaka's cell phone rings. When she suspects that ghosts might be afoot, the eerie stuff really starts. Scared but undeterred, Mariko continues investigating to reveal the murderous, suicidal history of the apartment. A piece of that history still lives there, one that doesn't appreciate people living in its place.
We have two things in Apartment 1303: grief and ghosts. The first of these parts works better than the last. We know from the beginning that ghosts are involved, but we'll set the smelly room aside for a minute. The scenes that occur in the thirty minutes after Sayaka kills herself are very well done. Sayaka's friends, her mother, and her sister, dumbstruck by what has happened, are awash in grief and, realistically, deal with their loss in very different ways. The kids are numb and rendered ineffectual by Sayaka's absence; mom is absolutely devastated, content now only to stare at her daughter's photo and weep; Mariko must do something, anything, to keep her mind off of it. These scenes are effectively morose. Mariko's mode of therapy is the second half of our story. If the film had just been about the suicide and the people dealing with death, we'd have been fine. They made a horror movie, though, and so we have this ghost story tacked onto this depressing opening.
Toward the start of the film, Sayaka tries to scare her friends by telling them of the ghastly history of the apartment. She passes the story off afterward as made up but, when the supernatural presents itself, we naturally assume that this story has come to life. If only it used the morbid story of a woman searching for her eyes, Apartment 1303 might have been more interesting, but this is not where the story leads. When Mariko figures out the grisly truth about the apartment and the ghosts begin haunting her, attempts at originality fall by the wayside. Since the success of Ringu a decade ago, the conventions of this genre have become stale. This film takes the conventions, but adds nothing to them. It's all here: weird little girls, mysterious phone calls, women with wet, matted hair floating in the air and/or water are mixed together with the idea that finding the secret origin of the spirit will lay it to rest. While not bad exactly, it is predictable from beginning to end and the ending is ridiculous. The performances are all solid and the sad tone of the first act is maintained throughout the film. There is plenty to like here, but there isn't anything individual about it over plenty of other Japanese ghost films. Tartan has delivered a solid transfer for their release of Apartment 1303 on their Asian Extreme brand. The color balance is accurate and the grey-blue hues are effectively depressing. The surround mix is what you'd expect from a new horror film, clearly mixed with most of the shocks in the rear channels. The release contains a photo gallery and the original trailer for its paltry set of extras.
Though there may be absolutely nothing new about Apartment 1303, there's nothing very bad about it either. For somebody who hasn't seen any of the Japanese imports, this film would be a fine place to start. It's competently made with enough creepiness for a depressingly enjoyable time.
As big a horror fan as I am, I would have been a lot happier if the whole film had been the meditation on grief that the first act was instead of the fairly feeble attempt at a horror film it turned out to be. Seeing the same conventions over and over quickly become weary and it becomes harder and harder to look past the clichés to what is often more substantial underneath. In this case, the substance is in the beginning; it's just too bad the filmmakers didn't see to getting back to that part after the horror was established.
Though it's derivative and average at best, those hair-tentacles creep me out too badly for me to render a guilty verdict. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Korean)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Korean)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo gallery
* Original theatrical trailer