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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

APARTMENT 1303 -- DVD review by porfle

Asian horror has gotten a reputation lately for being the real deal, but that doesn't mean every film in the genre is a total terror-fest. Tartan Asia Extreme's APARTMENT 1303 has many of the familiar elements, but it isn't all that successful in putting them to good use.

As the story opens, a young woman who just scored a great apartment with an ocean view for a paltry sum goes flying off the balcony the day she moves in--SPLAT! A month later, Sayaka moves in and moves out the same way--SPLAT! Turns out she's number five on the hit list, a small detail the landlords conveniently forget to mention to prospective renters. The perplexed police, meanwhile, chalk them all up as suicides.

Sayaka's big sister, Mariko, decides to investigate and discovers that two of the previous tenants were an abused girl and her crazy mother, whose restless spirits still inhabit the apartment and don't take kindly to anyone else moving in. When a group of teens rent the place for the summer and start sailing over the balcony rail--it's a triple-header this time!--Mariko goes in for a face-off against death.

The first half of APARTMENT 1303 is the creepiest. Director Ataru Oikawa does a good job of establishing an eerie, anything-can-happen atmosphere within the claustrophobic confines of the apartment, even making a simple closet seem like a thing of dread. There are a few of the traditional "gotcha!" shots here, and one in particular had me jumping out of my skin about halfway through. Special effects are pretty good without relying much on CGI. The cast does a nice job, particularly Noriko Nakagoshi as Mariko, and there's also a little girl who lives in apartment 1302 who really started to give me the willies after awhile.

After a promising start, however, the film fails to realize its potential. The apparitions that keep popping up now and then aren't that scary, even when one of them starts sprouting yards and yards of knotty black hair for no reason. One of them has so many long closeups that we begin to concentrate on the somewhat unconvincing makeup.

The climactic confrontations between the living and the dead are filled with lots of fog, wind effects, flashing lights, etc., which aren't any more frightening here than they were in POLTERGEIST. There is a pretty chilling moment shortly before the fadeout, but it leads to what I found to be a distinctly less-than-satisfying ending. After all is said and done, in fact, the most effective part of the film is probably the drama between Mariko and her hopelessly grieving mother.

The DVD comes in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS surround sound. The soundtrack is in Japanese with English and Spanish subtitles. Bonus features consist of a photo gallery plus the trailer for this and six other Tartan Asia Extreme releases.

Not a bad film by any means, APARTMENT 1303 would probably make for a good introduction into Asian horror. But for those who have already shivered in fear at the cream of that genre's crop, this one may seem hardly scarier than an average episode of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery."

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