Friday, 31 May 2013

Apartment 1303 – Blu-ray 3D Review

A chilling psychological story based on the J-horror film of the same name, Apartment 1303 is heading to Blu-ray 3D...

BBFC: 15
Released by: Koch Media
Release date: 3 June 2013

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

If you like films with an abundance of mystery, then you’re in the right place. Directed by Michael Taverna and premiered in 2012, Apartment 1303 is a chilling horror story with more questions than you can shake a stick at. One of the first things to hit me was the fact that this is by no means a story which rushes; it’s a very slow-burning chain of events that gradually unfolds, with twists at every turn. Available on Blu-ray (with both 2D and 3D versions included), DVD and VOD, Apartment 1303 is a film which although far from perfect, has plenty to enjoy.

The world depicted here is very dark. Apartment 1303 places the viewer in a world that’s very grim, with nothing seeming particularly cheerful or positive. The epitome of this is the Slate household, dominated by Maddie (Rebecca De Mornay), a singer desperately searching for fame but somebody who her daughters Lara (Mischa Barton) and Janet (Julianne Michelle) can’t wait to escape from. This is a major catalyst for Janet signing a lease on the first apartment she can find, the eponymous Apartment 1303 in Detroit.

This is a horror story which thrives on the suspense, the unknown, the mystery. There’s no extreme gore here – the horror is psychological, making us question the evidence of our own senses. Janet soon realises that there is something very strange about her new apartment, and I was surprised at how clearly these inexplicable events are shown on-screen. I was expecting them to be largely off-camera, inferred moments, but we actually see a huge amount of the events which drive the narrative forward. Therefore, the questions arise not so much from what has happened, but how and why it has happened. The visual style which Taverna has crafted for Apartment 1303 works stunningly in the context of the story, and adds a huge amount to the film’s psychological edge.

The screenplay is written by the director, adapted from a story by Kei Ôishi. The story itself is well-constructed, building layer upon layer of intrigue; Apartment 1303 is a labyrinth of mystery, twists and impossible occurrences. Corey Sevier plays Janet’s boyfriend Mark Taylor, and he becomes directly involved in the plot a little later on in the film. Janet’s neighbours are immensely odd people – Gordon Masten plays the creepy building superintendent, who is not a pleasant man, something which soon becomes clear in one exchange with her. Perhaps the greatest enigma of the film, though, is a little girl called Emily (Madison McAleer), who seems to somehow be integral to the supernatural events in Apartment 1303.

The film does have its flaws, however. As opposed to gradually developing the characters, Apartment 1303 essentially dumps most of what we need to know about the three main characters on us within the first few minutes, and then leaves the plot to simply roll along for the rest of its duration. The mystery of the storyline itself was enough to hold my interest, although the screenplay would have worked better if Taverna had been more thoughtful about how to make the best use of the characters. The best performance in the film has to be De Mornay. As Maddie, she is superb at portraying a woman who has aspirations of fame but instead is locked into a downward spiral of alcoholism.

As for Barton and Michelle, their acting here isn’t as strong. Both of them show a lack of conviction in their dialogue (which does feel like it could have done with another draft or two) at various points throughout, although it is Michelle who is the worst offender here, as she is never particularly believable. There are times when Barton isn’t much better, but she at least has moments of improvement. But perhaps the greatest frustration of Apartment 1303 is also the reason why you should go into it with your “suspension of disbelief” mode well and truly switched on. If the apartment is freaking Janet (and also Lara, arguably) out so much, forget the one-year lease, just get the hell out of there!

This film has been assigned a 15 certificate by the BBFC, although I’d say that it tests the boundaries a bit. Breaking it down into its individual components, there’s nothing which warrants bumping the certificate up to 18, but the film can’t be too far off the 18 mark. There’s strong language (the F-word is heard on multiple occasions) and while there’s no excessive gore, there’s still some rather frightening imagery. There’s also a steamy scene between Janet and Mark, which although not explicit (for example, there is no nudity, with underwear staying on), isn’t exactly implied. As I say, these aren’t particularly objectionable for the 15 certificate individually, but looking at the overall film which they form a part of, it’s a tough one to call. I’d be interested to hear what others think about this subject.

Thankfully, Apartment 1303 was actually shot in 3D, as opposed to being one of those half-hearted post-conversion cash-ins which often seem to dominate cinema. This really does show in the film – while there isn’t much here which could be described as breath-taking, the 3D does add to the experience. The opening credits make very nice use of the additional dimension. When I started the film and pressed pause so that I could switch on my 3D glasses, I was very impressed when I put the glasses on. The sequence consists of a sweep around a ghostly image (similar to that on the cover of this release) with the captions overlaid, and what’s interesting is that the two overlap each other a bit. Sometimes the background ends up on top of the caption, and my brain initially told me something along the lines of “ouch, that’s messy” – but actually, after seeing it in motion for a few seconds, it works quite well. It sells the notion that the forces in Apartment 1303 are intangible and transgressive of physical actuality (whether this was actually intentional is anybody’s guess, but it’s what popped into my mind before the actual film had even got underway, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one).

As for the use of 3D during the film proper, it’s most impressive during the scenes set in the apartment itself. It helps to form an idea of the physical space, and emphasises the suspense of not knowing what lurks just around the corner. In some shots, it also helps us to get a better idea of the height of the apartment building. During the more stylised moments (which I don’t really want to describe here due to spoilers, but you’ll know them when you see them), although the 3D looks good, it perhaps doesn’t reach its full potential – but these moments are always quite brief, so in the time it took me to realise that the 3D could have been taken a bit further, the moment had passed anyway. Away from the apartment building, a lot of the shots in various places around Detroit aren’t generally too remarkable, although there are some nice shots in and around the Slate residence.

Overall, Apartment 1303 is flawed, but still enjoyable. I expect this is one of those films which doesn’t have a huge amount of replay value, but on first viewing it’s compulsive simply because we don’t know what is going to happen, even if some of the acting is a bit dodgy and the character development isn’t what it could have been. Without giving anything away, the ending is open – the film does not close its own narrative, but it gives us enough evidence to formulate our own ideas about what exactly is going on. If you’re expecting everything to be completely tied up, the ending will underwhelm and perhaps even frustrate you, but if you’re aware that it’s more of an open ending, then it might just delight you.


There are two audio tracks to choose from: 2.0 stereo LPCM or 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (both are lossless). I would normally have chosen the 2.0 track because it better suits my equipment, but in this case I chose 5.1 for various reasons not relating directly to this product, and it does sound impressive. With a handful of scenes being the exception, dialogue is usually easy to hear, and John Lissauer’s music has a nice amount of power behind it. The music is noticeably louder than the dialogue at various points throughout (though thankfully the two don’t coincide very much, saving the dialogue from being drowned out too much), but this is arguably a necessity because of the effect the music is trying to create. This is a horror film after all…

Here, I am solely reviewing the 3D version of the film, which is included on this Blu-ray at 1080/24p, in an alternate frame 3D presentation encoded with MVC. A common problem with 3D is that the glasses can darken the image, though quite how tolerable this is depends both on the viewer and how bright the image is in the first place. Because of how many dark shots there are in Apartment 1303, I did find the darkness of the 3D image more of an issue than I often do, although I sorted this out by increasing the backlight level of my LED LCD TV – normally I have the backlight no higher than 12 out of 20, but in this case I ramped it up to 15. While I don’t normally feel the need to do this, it did sort the problem out as far as I was concerned. In pretty much all other respects this is a fairly strong Blu-ray transfer, with deep blacks, strong colours and a great amount of clarity in the image (providing the picture is bright enough to discern the detail). There aren’t very many instances of rapid camera pans or tilts causing motion problems with the 3D, which is an issue that can sometimes be found elsewhere. Overall, apart from the initial problems I had with picture brightness through the 3D glasses, I can’t think of many bad things to say about this high definition presentation.

This is a region-free release. All video on the disc is entirely 24p-based – there is no 50i content to cause problems for buyers in 60i territories.

Important: The images in this review are NOT sourced from the Blu-ray.

6 OUT OF 10

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Thanks to Organic

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