Monday, April 13, 2015

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Apartment 1303' (2012)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

The 2007 Japanese horror movie Apartment 1303 is not exactly a stellar example of the genre, but the dreadful 2012 American remake makes it look like a masterpiece. It's sort of appropriate that a third-tier J-horror movie has been remade as a low-budget, basically direct-to-VOD American horror movie, featuring C-list actors clearly hard up for roles. Apartment 1303's only real selling points are its stars, specifically Mischa Barton in the lead role as a woman investigating her sister's mysterious death and Rebecca De Mornay as the sisters' mother, whose part has been greatly expanded from the original. But both actresses are terrible, with Barton giving a wooden performance that feels like she's marking time until the shoot ends and she can go home, and De Mornay overacting wildly as a drunken washed-up rocker who smothers her daughters.

The plot outline is basically the same, with timid 20-something Janet (Julianne Michelle) moving into her first apartment and encountering the ghost of a young woman who forces her off the balcony. Janet's sister Lara (Barton) then attempts to find out what happened, discovering the story of a mother and daughter who are now haunting the apartment, pushing all the young female tenants off the balcony. Writer-director Michael Taverna spends more time with Janet before she falls to her death, and he compresses the lengthy back story into a few quick explanations. Neither of these changes improves the plotting, especially since Michelle is extremely irritating as Janet, who's constantly talking to herself so she can over-explain her feelings and what's happening in the story.

Clearing out the flashbacks also makes room for more scenes of De Mornay, dressed like a second-rate Stevie Nicks, chewing scenery, but her performance is more desperate and sad than campy. A couple of months ago I watched the obscure Sam Rockwell indie movie Lawn Dogs on DVD, and was pleasantly surprised to see a remarkable performance from a 10-year-old Barton in one of her first roles. She apparently peaked early, because she's clearly completely checked out by now, barely putting any effort into her performance. Not that this material deserves much effort; Taverna's screenplay includes such dialogue gems as "Apartments don't kill people. People kill people," which is such a crucial line that it gets repeated three times throughout the movie.

Taverna's film is also a mess visually, with cheap-looking effects and some basic failures of blocking (there are multiple scenes in which he can't even bother to put the two actors who are facing off against each other in the same frame). For some reason this movie was released in 3D in a very limited capacity, but I can't imagine how the flat images and drab sets would be improved by seeing them in 3D. I dismissed the original Apartment 1303 as dull and forgettable, but that's a welcome alternative to a movie this inept and tedious.

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