Monday, September 2, 2013

The Remake Comparison Project - Scare Hair and the Rotten Mother

Cody collaborates with Priscilla Tuboly to bring a new feature to the blog: The Remake Comparison Project, in which an original film and its remake will be watched and discussed together.

Things begin with the telling of a ghost story, Asian and American style.


APARTMENT 1303 (2007)

A young woman named Sayaka has just moved out of her mother's home for the first time in her life and gotten her own apartment on the thirteenth floor of a residential high-rise. Apartment 1303. The rent is cheap, she's got a great view of the sea from her balcony and the building's pool is directly below. Sayaka is having a housewarming party with a group of friends when she goes off into another room... and when she returns, she's not acting like herself at all. She eats some dog food, then straps on a helmet, walks out onto the balcony, and steps over the railing, plummeting thirteen stories to her death, smashing into the brick stairs near the pool.

Surrounded by strangeness as she clears out the apartment, troubled by creepily disturbing visions of a bloody Sayaka and not convinced that her death really was a straightforward suicide, Sayaka's sister Mariko takes it upon herself to investigate the situation and figure out what really happened.

Mariko's snooping unearths the fact that 1303 has a very dark history; abusive relationships, rotting corpses, suicide. Several young women have died by falling from the balcony over the last few years. It's not a coincidence that the young women who move into 1303 keep throwing themselves to their deaths - there is an evil force within the apartment that compels them to do so, something that targets young women of a certain circumstance. Now, by digging into this mystery, Mariko has put herself in danger of becoming the murderous spirit's next victim.

It's been said on the blog before that I have a taste for the domestic when it comes to horror and that I have trouble getting into ghost stories, so this is not the sort of film that I would normally choose to watch and give my full attention to. The reason I did watch it was because it was recommended by my good friend Priscilla.

I first watched this movie around a year or so ago because I'm into Asian horror. My favorites are mostly South Korean, including a few slashers, which is refreshing since 99% of Asian horror consists of ghost stories. Apartment 1303 was made in Japan, which isn't what I tend to pick when I'm in the mood for that type of movie, but there are a few I like a lot. Anyway... I decided to give this one a try and ended up really enjoying it.

Overall, it's your typical Asian ghost story. The acting is alright, Noriko Nakagoshi does a fine job carrying the film as Mariko. As directed by Ataru Oikawa, with some nice lighting, cinematography, fog effects, and a dark score on the soundtrack, the movie manages to attain an effectively creepy vibe, and there are a couple of hair-raising (no pun intended) moments you usually find in those movies.

I've been told that the fascination with long, dark hair in Japanese movies is a cultural thing. I don't totally understand it, it quickly became funny to me when I was giving Asian horror more chances back in the day. Long black hair comes into play in 1303 as well, but it does make for a couple cool moments near the end.
At one point, a group of college students have moved into 1303 and the homicidal ghost crashes a party in epic fashion, tendrils of hair whipping around the room. When combined with the lighting and fog, this sequence reminded me of something out of a Hellraiser movie, the Cenobite's chains replaced with hair.

The ghost's use of its Japanese scare hair also brought the Marvel Comics character Medusa to my mind.

The building had the right atmosphere and the pool down below added to that in a very positive way... there was just something about it that made the death scenes more interesting, since it's mostly about jumping or being thrown out of the window from very very high up.

Many of the problems I have with so many Japanese horror movies that I've seen are not present in 1303 - no crazily over-the-top presentation, no achingly slow pace, its running time isn't in need of being cut down. It's a simple ghost story told in a straightforward manner over a running time that lasts an agreeable 96 minutes. Priscilla didn't steer me wrong with this one.

Love them or hate them, if you've seen a Japanese ghost story before, you know what you're getting with Apartment 1303. It's exactly what you'd expect, it doesn't do much to set itself apart from the pack, it's just a good haunted apartment story that's brought to the screen just how it needed to be.

Cody and Priscilla agree, Apartment 1303 (2007) is worth checking into.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the American/Canadian remake.


APARTMENT 1303 (2012)

Presented in 3D if you caught it on the big screen during its limited, twenty market theatrical release, the remake tells the same basic story but in a very different way.

In this version, the ill-fated sister moving out of her emotionally, perhaps physically and maybe even sexually abusive mother's place is named Janet, and she's a very naive girl who signs a one year lease for the first apartment she's shown, despite the fact that it's in a questionable area of Detroit, its walls are graffitied, and the building is full of weirdos and creeps, including a pervert super who offers a deal of sexual favors in exchange for a break on the rent.

Whereas the original film got to the death of Sayaka rather quickly in what is basically a quick opening sequence (even though it's preceded by the death of another 1303 resident in what is the actual, unnecessary opening sequence), the remake drags things out and takes thirty-five minutes to get to Janet's death, the first in the film. Our assumption is that spending all this extra time with Janet was supposed to make us really care about her, but it didn't work for either of us. The character is painful to spend time with, she's so childish and dimwitted.

When Janet is finally put out of our misery, being tossed off her apartment's balcony by the spirit inhabiting 1303 and smashing down onto the sidewalk far below, her sister Lara takes the lead and follows the Mariko path of investigating her death while being haunted by visions of her sister, uncovering the apartment's dark history, learning that several previous occupants have died by falling from the balcony, and having dangerous encounters with the murderous spirit herself.

The original version was nicely stylish and told the story just how it needed to be told, but writer/director Michael Taverna really fumbled things on this one. It's flat and lifeless on every level, looking and feeling like a low budget, direct-to-video horror sequel from the mid-'90s.

Maybe seeing it in 3D would've made it more tolerable.

The writing/directing is so bad that it reflects on the acting. I mean, talking about the three leading roles specifically... I've seen Rebecca De Mornay (the mother) and Mischa Barton (Lara) both give pretty decent performances before. Obviously for De Mornay, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle comes to mind... I've always thought the cold and emotionless look in her eyes were wonderful for that character, and even more recently with the Mother's Day remake, she did not disappoint. Of course Mischa Barton isn't wonderful or anything, but things like The Sixth Sense come to mind - even though it was a small part, she was very effective as the little puking ghost girl. Now the Janet character was by far the worst... I've never seen that actress, Julianne Michelle, in anything before, but I'm blaming the directing as well, because it's just awful. Seriously annoying and so shallow... the character is supposed to be a bit shallow, but it goes way beyond that.

One good thing I can say about Julianne Michelle is that she handles a couple of her super scared, crying moments well, with trembling lips and everything.

But the actors really don't come off well overall, and it definitely has a lot to do with the writing and directing, as they have to deal with clunky dialogue transitions and horrendously stilted lines that make it sound like they're just reading straight from the script with no emotion. It was laughable at times, like Janet asking the spirit, "What did I do to you?" while she's hanging from the balcony, or Lara's "Yes. I'm sorry, I'm really scared for my life." during a 911 call that's presumably supposed to be panicked but is delivered like she's a robot.

This remake is just all over the place. The ghost girl looks older than she should be -

And those "scare moments" consisting of her slapping a window while spying on a sleeping character, lurking around with eyes wide open and teleporting around a room for no reason really did nothing for me.

The score pretty much isn't there, the character of Janet's boyfriend just doesn't make any sense at all...

He has a completely unnecessary subplot going on. At least he and Janet get a ridiculously random, Skinemax-esque interlude in which she tells him to punish her because she's been a naughty girl.

Even the main character's name is pronounced differently by her mom and sister, which is ridiculous, and there is no atmosphere whatsoever.

The movie does ends in the way that I presume most ghost stories do once the end credits start rolling, with a surviving character getting blamed for the spirit's actions, but that didn't make me like it any better.

The ending makes sense with a certain character going to jail, but that's pretty much it. I was hoping it'd be so much better, but it just wasn't the case.

"Apartments don't kill people. People kill people."

1 comment:

  1. I agree 100% with everything Priscilla says. I look forward to reading many more of her thoughts in the future. -WJ