APARTMENT 1303 (2007)
On the first night that Sayaka moves out of her mother's home and into her first apartment, an evil within draws her to the brink of madness and she leaps from her 13th story balcony to her death right in front of her friends that had helped her move in. Sayaka's death devastates her mother, and it is up to her sister Mariko to pick up the pieces and deal with moving her stuff out. While finishing up with the apartment, Mariko feels a dreadful force, but can not quite place it.
Her fears gain a focal point when a local detective clues Mariko into the fact that over the past two years five women have committed suicide in 1303. She also discovers that books have been written about the original jumper and her horrific ordeal with her abusive mother, and that the authors believe she has placed a curse on the apartment. Mariko tries to gain the attention of the company that owns the building, but her pleading falls on deaf ears. It is only after learning that the apartment has already been rented out again, that she realizes the deaths will continue to happen, unless she tries to put an end to it.
From Ataru Oikama, the writer and director of the TOMIE film adaptations, comes this mish-mash of supernatural horror and haunting cliches. It should come as no surprise that given the cramped lifestyle of Japan, if you are going to have a haunted dwelling, it would be a tiny apartment in a high rise. Oikama wastes no time in setting up this apartment by lathering on the groaning and bass-heavy droning soundtrack and the "unseen horror" not once, but twice plummeting the first two victims of the high body count to their doom before finally locking onto the main protagonist.
Oikama utilizes a slew of camera tricks and special effects to bring his revenge seeking spirits to the life. As a director who has been behind the camera four times already dealing with the supernatural, Oikama brings out the best work early on, as he focuses on creeping angles, in-camera ghosting effects, and simple double exposures to build up a suspenseful atmosphere. This fragile mood though is all but shattered as one by one victims are thrown out the window, as digital green screen effects are implemented to follow the soon-to-be splattered girls in their descent. The effect all but gutbusting laughable, and the victims' twisted over-expressive faces during the sped-up plunge do nothing to quiet those giggles.
The base story is decent, with lead actress Noriko Nakagoshi holding a strong screen presence and is equally easy on the eyes, while the detail-oriented origin story that starts the haunting deals with an abusive parent and offers up some of the film's best "scares" with its torment and verbal torture. His origin also plays on the fact that many of the most horrific legends and horror stories of Japan stem from real events, and a public all too eager to eat it up. However, the weak and plot hole-riddled third act of the script is filled an abundance of unresolved set-ups that make the story rather frustrating to get through. And the need for Mariko to be conveniently in just the right place at just the right time so that the story can moved to its conclusion will roll more than a few eyebrows.
While Oikama is clearly a fan of the horror genre, it is equally clear that he grasp the creativity to cull his own original story, and must borrow from other sources fill his page and screen. Take for instance his ghost, which is right out of the classic Hong Kong series A CHINESE GHOST STORY with its long hair whipping out in all directions as tendrils and bluish white light working its silhouetting magic. The all-too-easy reliance on a quiet and creepy looking little girl to get some of the exposition out of the way, or the use of cell phones for communication from the spirit world.
Playing out like a lesser episode of Masters Of Horror, APARTMENT 1303 tries to bite off a bit more than it can chew with its obviously limited budget. Instead of focusing on the subtle strengths of mood and atmosphere everything is continually blown up to over-the-top proportions, and almost seems tailor made for riffing with a couple friends that have seen one too many long-haired-ghosts. At the very least, Oikama has the courage to end it all with a downbeat ending.