Studio: Phase 4 Films
Director: Michael Taverna
Writer: Michael Taverna
Producer: Michael Taverna, Cindy Nelson-Mullen
Stars: Mischa Barton, Rebecca De Mornay, Julianne Michelle, John Diehl, Corey Sevier, Kathleen Mackey, Madison McAleer
A troubled young woman experiences haunting visions when she moves into the strange apartment where her sister died.
Often, it can be unfair to compare a remake to the original. Remakes should have a chance to be considered as separate entities without being beholden to any standards or preconceptions that come with knowledge of the source material. In the case of “Apartment 1303,” however, drawing parallels with the 2007 Japanese original helps articulate the problems of the 2012 American remake. Because it has been previously demonstrated that there is a way to tell this story that is not just different, but much better.
“Apartment 1303” is a uniquely cursed place to live. Since the tragic murder-suicide of a mother and daughter there twenty years ago, single female tenants have a tendency to split open their heads on the outside pavement after jumping or falling from 1303’s balcony. Of course, that charming tidbit of history is conveniently omitted from the sales brochure. When 23-year-old Janet breaks out on her own to escape an alcoholic mother, 1303 seems right up her affordable alley. Until she becomes the apartment’s next victim. Now it is up to her sister Janet to piece together the mystery of 1303’s haunting, if she can stop herself from being driven insane in the meantime.
Both versions of “Apartment 1303” use nearly identical stories drawn from a novel by Kei Oishi, who also wrote the book that inspired “Ju-On: The Grudge.” Where the two movies differ greatly is in the telling of that story.
The Japanese original (review here) rose above being a typical ghost story by adding a layer focused on the aftermath of tragedy through a sobbing mother and a grieving sister. There were scenes of emotional breakdowns and bouts of deep depression. Via flashbacks, the original murder-suicide was illustrated visually so that the audience was a firsthand witness to child abuse and psychological torture.
That “Apartment 1303” was interested in relatable pain and an air of sadness to make the vengeful ghost tale more tragic. This “Apartment 1303” never pauses to mourn anyone and its characters are mere props to push the plot to the end credits.
“Apartment 1303” never shows what transpired between the original mother and daughter that created the curse in the first place. Some vague dialogue about abuse and a homicide-suicide are the only muttered clues. There is no sense of that mother as a character, and no sense of her daughter as a sympathetic victim. Their backstory is just a tossed away plot device.
The movie devotes its time to introducing characters through hollow actions and B plots so unimportant that the film actually forgets about them. Act one is spent getting to know first victim Janet Slate. Instead of meaningful moments that might create a personality, Janet bumbles around the apartment fumbling to open a bottle of wine, scaring herself with a falling ironing board, and talking to no one incessantly. The script lacks so much confidence in its ability to tell a story visually that Janet is given enough dialogue for four people, even though she appears onscreen alone for most of the time. Had “Apartment 1303” intentionally meant for her to seem like a hopeless dimwit, it would have been successful.
Janet’s sister Lara is just as empty. When she is seen breaking down in despair, it is because she is worried that she might be losing her mind. Not one of those tears falls towards her dead sister. It is not clear whom “Apartment 1303” wants the audience to like, if anyone, or why anyone even should.
The remaining characters wander each scene in a similar daze of unnecessary existence and pointless actions. Janet’s boyfriend is alternately avoidant and then devoted and caring. He has a side story as an undercover cop with an ex-wife and child. To what end that is relevant to the overall plot is unknown. John Diehl appears in a role so thankless that his character has no more of a name or a credit than simply “detective.”
Rebecca De Mornay is wasted as a fallen idol alcoholic whose only purpose in the film is to motivate her daughters to leave home. Except by the time she is introduced, one of her daughters has already left. Her scenes continue after the second daughter leaves, too. “Apartment 1303” should have moved on to bigger and better plotlines, if it had them, but it feels the need to show mother playing guitar in a stupor presumably to pad out the runtime.
“Apartment 1303” not only lacks confidence in its script, it lacks confidence in its scares. Perhaps aware that none of the frights are effective, every single moment of intended terror is accompanied by a loudly accentuated sound or an over-orchestrated soundtrack. With Janet’s fall being the only death from the curse ever depicted, the apartment does not even come across as terribly sinister. The Japanese original was busy scaring up a five-person body count in the same time that the remake is getting around to putting the sister on the case.
Normally I roll my eyes when someone bemoans how much better a book was to the movie, or a remake to the original. But this is a clear case where I have to be “that guy.” If this is a story someone really wishes to see onscreen, stick with the Japanese original. Devoid of scares, relatable characters, and a sensible story, this remake can stay inside the closet, rotting alongside the corpse in “Apartment 1303.”
Review Score: 30