Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. A long-haired, female, Japanese ghost holes up in a residential abode and proceeds to enact angry, murderous vengeance upon those who enter it. If you’re thinking of Ju-On and its seemingly endless stream of sequels and spin-offs…well, you’d be right, but in this case, the premise belongs to a whole other movie — albeit one that’s every bit as derivative. In short, Apartment 1303 is just about as cheap and lazy as horror movies in general can get, let alone these Asian ghost stories that are growing more indiscernable as their numbers grow.
In a seaside apartment complex, there’s one unit, 1303, that seems to be cursed. A young woman getting away from home for the first time moves in one day, but she’s hardly unpacked her things when, at a housewarming party with her friends, she strangely munches on some dog food before making a bee line for the balcony and jumping to her death. Despite the police declaring her death a suicide, her boyfriend refuses to believe she willingly took her own life, a possibility that the woman’s sister, Mariko (Noriko Nakagoshi), is growing more and more keen to. It’s not long before Mariko learns that her sis wasn’t the only girl to take a swan dive off of 1303’s balcony, that something about this habitation is sending its tenants to their deaths. This something inevitably turns out to be a ghostly presence, and it’s up to Mariko to investigate the apartment’s sordid past in order to put an end to the ghost’s vengeful wrath.
Sometimes a horror movie benefits from being made on the cheap. Halloween, The Blair Witch Project, and scores of others conquered their miniscule budgets by offering the sort of atmosphere and chills you just can’t get with gobs of cash. However, this was not the wisest way to go for Apartment 1303, as its attempts to cut corners and whip up yet another J-horror flick on the fly only serve to make it look, well, cheap. The flick’s misguided frugality begins right with the DVD cover, which boasts the movie as being “from the author of The Grudge.” Scan the Internet Movie DataBase all you want, but none of the movie’s three writers were attached to any of the Ju-On movies or their American counterparts — but a quick trip to Google shows that co-writer Kei Oishi wrote a novelization of one of the films. Of all the paper-thin connections to be made between movies, this is akin to saying Gigli is like The Departed because the same janitor cleaned the bathrooms on both sets.
But the fun doesn’t end there. Apartment 1303 makes things worse for itself just by being filmed on digital video, which may be a good way to save money under the right circumstances, but it doesn’t help when the scenes of people falling off 1303’s balcony look so laughably awful, you’d swear the movie was made just to have the “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ gang poke fun at it. The special effects are just as corny, with the tendrils of hair the main ghost shoots from her scalp resembling spider web Halloween decorations spray-painted black. The acting is phenomenally forgettable, with an especially bland turn from Nakagoshi as the obligatory heroine, whose “investigation” into the mystery behind 1303 consists of her literally sitting around until a character shows up who will provide her (and us) with the apartment’s entire back story. The plot is in an even more ghastly state of disarray, what with a laborious pace, yawn-inducing scare scenes, and a climax and ending so inept, you can see the filmmakers throwing up their hands and leaving the camera running as they drove away to cash their paychecks.
I’d like to go easy on Apartment 1303, since there are several films much worse than this, whose worst crime is just being the result of a horror trend that’s not turning out as many exciting products as it used to. But so much goes so wrong, with the filmmakers apparently giving little notice to it all, I’ve no choice but to call out Apartment 1303 as the dull, monotonous, and scare-free piece of junk it is.