The Lights Are On, but No One's Home
Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. A long-haired, female, Japanese ghost holes up in a residential abode and proceeds to enact angry, murderous vengeance upon those who enter it. No, this is not Ju-On; it's Apartment 1303, a movie about as cheap and lazy as horror films can get, let alone these Asian ghost stories that are growing more indiscernable as their numbers grow.
In a seaside apartment complex, there's one unit, 1303, that seems to be cursed. A young woman getting away from home for the first time moves in one day, but she's hardly unpacked her things when, at a housewarming party with her friends, she munches on some dog food before making a run for the balcony and jumping to her death. Despite the police declaring her death a suicide, her boyfriend refuses to believe she willingly took her own life, a possibility the woman's sister, Mariko (Noriko Nakagoshi), is growing more and more keen to.
It's not long before Mariko learns her sis wasn't the only girl to take a swan dive off the 1303 balcony. Evidently, something about this unit is sending its tenants to their deaths -- and it turns out to be a ghostly presence. Mariko decides to investigate the apartment's sordid past in order to put an end to the ghost's vengeful wrath.
Sometimes a horror movie benefits from being made on the cheap. Halloween, The Blair Witch Project, and scores of others conquered their miniscule budgets by offering the sort of atmosphere and chills you just can't get with gobs of cash. However, attempts by Apartment 1303 to cut corners and whip up yet another J-horror flick on the fly only serve to make it look, well, cheap. The flick's misguided frugality begins right with the DVD cover, which boasts the movie as being "from the author of The Grudge." Scan the Internet Movie DataBase all you want, but none of the movie's three writers were attached to any of the Ju-On movies or their American counterparts -- but a quick trip to Google shows that co-writer Kei Oishi wrote a novelization of one of the films. Of all the paper-thin connections to be made between movies, this is akin to saying Gigli is like The Departed because the same janitor cleaned the bathrooms on both sets.
Apartment 1303 makes things worse for itself by being filmed on digital video, which may be a good way to save money under the right circumstances, but it doesn't help when the scenes of people falling off 1303's balcony look so laughably awful, you'd swear the movie was made simply to have the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" gang poke fun at it. The special effects are just plain corny, with the tendrils of hair the main ghost shoots from her scalp resembling spider web Halloween decorations spray-painted black.
The acting here is phenomenally forgettable, with an especially bland turn from Nakagoshi as the obligatory heroine, whose "investigation" into the mystery behind 1303 consists of sitting around until a character shows up who will provide her (and us) with the apartment's entire back story. The plot is in an even more ghastly state of disarray with its laborious pace, yawn-inducing scare scenes and inept ending.
Because there are several horror films much worse than this one, I'm tempted to go easy on it -- but that's not gonna happen, for the filmmakers seem unconcerned about all the things going wrong with it. I can't help feeling it's my responsibility to warn viewers that watching Apartment 1303 can be a dull, monotonous and scare-free movie experience.
MY RATING: * (out of ****)
(Released by MonteCristo International; not rated by MPAA.)