Carlos Torren’s paranormal investigation feature over-commits and under-delivers, in this uninspiring tale of a presence so powerful that it can turn picture frames upside down.
Apartment 143 – unattached to the mildly unsettling Japanese sound-a-like called Apartment 1303 from 2007 (which, incidentally, is being ruthlessly force-fed to the relentlessly brutal American remake machine as we speak) – features an otherworldly presence whose sinister powers must surely rival those so crudely showcased by its malevolent mates in the ‘found footage’ genre. So we’ve had the Blair Witch battering the side of Heather Donahue’s tent and forcing her mate to stand in the corner like a naughty nipper, the presence in Paranormal Activity breaking photo frames and setting fire to ouija boards, and poor possessed Nell in the excellent The Last Exorcism performing diabolical contortion and ripping cats into flying fragments of fluff and guts. In the face of such fierce rivals, how can the presence haunting the depressing interior of Apartment 143 possibly hope to trump those nefarious nasties in its filmic subgenre? By knocking on the door and running away, ringing that noisy phone until it drives you to distraction, switching lights on and off, shutting off the television whilst your stroppy daughter is slumped in front of it, moving the kettle off of the stove, and – wait for it – by turning pictures on the wall upside down, without even leaving any footprints in the talc left on the floor by those diligent ghost hunters! Yes sir, it’s true; this ghostly presence really is a bad-ass.
OK, so maybe I’m being a little disingenuous here. Carlos Torren’s visual realisation of Rodrigo Cortes’ script does at least make an effort to ratchet up the tension in notches by introducing some fairly innocuous (paranormal) activity at the early stages of this familiar picture, before building up to some more serious and threatening haunting action. The framework established here also attempts to present a slightly different perspective on the inevitable spiritual shenanigans by capturing events through a multitude of cameras set up by a team of paranormal investigators, and this premise at least relinquishes the filmmakers of the usual burden of continually explaining and vindicating why the characters keep filming through periods of extreme terror and danger.
Much thought has clearly been given to the personalities of the characters and how these might add a suitable splash of colour to this grim picture; in the clutch of ‘scientists’ there’s the young and easy-going Paul Ortega (Rick Gonzalez), the serious and authoritative Doctor Helzer (Michael O’Keefe), the calm and steady Ellen (Fiona Glascott), and in the family there’s the weary and troubled father Alan White (Kai Lennox), and the alienated and disaffected daughter, Caitlin (Gia Mantegna). The problem here is that these characterisations have been so acutely defined that they end up feeling unnatural. O’Keefe, for example, in his role as Doctor Helzer, has been cast as a serious and single-minded man who brings science and rationality to the investigation. Yet the delivery of this character results in a man who feels staid, uninspiring, and certainly unworthy of the respect which all of the other paranormal ‘scientists’ seem to afford him. Ellen, as the more sensitive and amiable investigator, ends up becoming anaemic and entirely unmemorable as her watery characterisation fades her into the background. And the polarised relationship between the desperate father Alan White and his abusive ‘troubled’ teenage daughter Caitlin is uncomfortable for all of the wrong reasons; it’s not the ascerbic and abrasive nature of their relationship which we cringe at, but rather the extreme and unrealistic nature of its portrayal. With such difficulties surrounding the characterisations and our subsequent ability to be able to identify with these people, it’s little wonder that as this story of a haunted apartment unfolds, we are simply unable to elicit anything by way of empathy.
The reactions and behaviour of the characters also presents problems on frequent occasions. The most noteworthy of these is when Paul and Ellen are examining some footage late at night whilst Doctor Helzer sleeps. Finding an image with a murky character in the background, they process and clean the image to reveal, in full clarity, a ghostly figure. ‘Should we wake the Doctor?’, one of the investigators asks. ‘No, we’ll show him in the morning’ replies the other, and this reaction to what should be a mindblowing discovery is simply ridiculous, and shatters any illusions any of us may have been drifting into as the film unfolds.
Now, this is a horror film, and sometimes, if it’s effective enough, a horror product can be forgiven a multitude of sins, if it can fulfil its primary aim of horrifying us. And yet Apartment 143 seldom approaches anything nearing a mild chill, let alone pant-wetting fear. It’s not just the dodgy characterisations or the flat performances or the unimaginative splodge of horror clichés which drag this film down into a disengaging trudge; the so-called scares simply aren’t scary. I’m not just referring to the slightly underhand examples I pointed out at the opening of this review, though I do stand by my assertion that a nefarious nasty which moves the kettle whilst no-one is looking doesn’t feel especially threatening. It’s other moments, such as the dragging of a chair across the floor, the slamming shut of a laptop lid, or the slamming shut of doors; the film has failed to burrow its way under our skin, and as a consequence, these fairly innocuous activities barely register in our consciousness, let alone invade it and leave a chilling imprint, as high quality horror should do. In fact, I can only really recall one truly chilling moment in the entire film, which uses strobe lighting to deliver a surprisingly efficient scare. Perhaps if Torren could have engineered more moments of this quality in the relatively short running time, Apartment 143 would have proven to be a much more frightening location to spend 77 minutes.
Carlos Torren works hard to bring something new to the found footage genre, and the attempt to forge a tale of haunting and possession with a socio-familial drama is an earnest one. Yet the end result is a confused fusion of over-used horror techniques and ideas which feel derivative and tired. In terms of execution, there’s certainly worse examples out there in the horror genre, but some fresh ideas and increased creativity would have made Apartment 143 a far more fulfilling viewing experience.
Momentum release Apartment 143 on a region 2 encoded DVD for European audiences. Now, I’ve remarked before just how difficult these found footage films can be to assess in terms of transfer quality, and due to this film being shot by a number of handheld and fixed security cameras, you should expect a good deal of grain on frequent occasions throughout the film. Additionally, to make your humble reviewer’s task even more challenging, the filmmakers have opted to include some additional film ‘damage’ and spots to further lend the impression of lo-fi filming and the production of authentic ‘ghost hunter’ images. Despite this, the lo-fi output does seem to have been transferred to the DVD medium with a steady and consistent hand, with the lo-fi image being presented with transparency and without unintentional noise.
The aspect ratio is the original presentation of 1.85:1, although it should be noted that some of the footage is intentionally presented in other aspect ratios within the film, such as the footage captured by security cameras.
The colour in this film is often shrouded in a murky green due to the filming methods of the intrepid paranormal ‘scientists’, though there are also some warm yellows and oranges during some of the evening scenes indoors. Colour can quite often be flat, but again, this is to be expected with the film being constructed of a collection of security camera and handheld camera shots.
There are English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing. Analysis proves that the subtitles are decent enough and well positioned.
There are trailers for House at the End of the Street, the bigger budget Red Lights, and the English shaky-cam product, A Night in the Woods. I hope I’m not being unkind when I suggest that all three trailers showcase greater appeal than the main feature here. Sorry.
Audio comes in the choice of stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (do paranormal investigators record in surround sound? Maybe), and in truth the audio presentation on this disc is decent enough. The bass depth perhaps leaves a little to be desired, but since this is meant to be giving us the impression of a lo-fi paranormal investigation, we don’t mind too much, and there’s certainly much more focus on the middle and treble, which is clear throughout.
This disc does benefit from an extra in the form of a Making of documentary, which lasts for approximately 15 minutes. It does prove mildly interesting in terms of the ‘all in this together’ efforts of the assembled film crew to generate the special effect sequences, and the director and writer certainly talk about the film in enthusiastic enough terms. The actors also attempt to speak about the film and its supposed subtexts with enthusiasm, yet you can’t help but feel that their hearts aren’t quite in it. You may also be interested to know that the film is a Spanish production with efforts being made to present the apartment block as an LA location, which aren’t altogether successful.
A Trailer rounds up the rather modest selection of extras on this DVD.
Momentum have done a decent enough job of bringing Carlos Torren’s catalogue of a paranormal investigation to DVD, but with Apartment 143 often presenting like some sort of random horror film medley with little focus and seldom convincing characterisations, there’s not much I can give to recommend a purchase.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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