Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apartment 143 (2011)

I'm a little bit at a loss as to what to think about Apartment 143. It starts out as a pretty conventional haunting movie, with a small team of paranormal investigators setting up in the apartment of a family who's been experiencing some strange phenomena ever since the mother's death. And that's fine - everybody's got their tastes. Some people eat up zombie movies, others like slashers. I, personally, dig a good movie with some poltergeist activity. And Apartment 143 does have some decent scares, even if my final conclusion is that many of them are kind of cheap, and the overall tone of the movie isn't as effectively exhilarating as, say, Paranormal Activity.

But there's something about this movie that I found simultaneously intriguing, and frustrating, but talking about it requires spoiling (so consider yourself warned). A lot of the time in a movie about some kind of haunting or other, the paranormal investigators that inevitably get involved might tease at various explanations for ghosts and demons or what have you, but ultimately, they tend not to say very much of substance, and it often simply boils down to some kind of paranormal entity (whether the ghost of a dead person or something else entirely) either wreaking havoc or just playing around. Apartment 143 almost seems to want to provide a more scientifically rigorous approach to explaining the paranormal phenomena - by using all their fancy tools of the trade to rule out possibilities one at a time.

And in the end, the source of the problem tends toward being more psychological than anything else. There is a bit of mystery underlying what happened to this family, and how the mother died, and your speculations play into what you think might be causing the strange occurrences, and this provides more of an opportunity for character-based drama than you typically see in these kinds of movies. But to spoil it straight out, the explanation ostensibly involves the hot teenage daughter's Carrie-like superpowers, and the lead investigator (who is actually described as a psychologist, and is clearly a man of experience in these matters) settles on the diagnosis of "schizophrenia".

Which is interesting, because last I checked, schizophrenia doesn't involve subconscious telekinesis, much less demonic possession-like symptoms that defy the known laws of physics. On the other hand, positing an alternate reality where psychic powers such as these are truly in existence, and high levels of stress capable of triggering them as a much-needed emotional release (stereotypically associated with adolescent females) - which, on the other hand, begs the question of why every other family that's been through lots of stress doesn't similarly experience poltergeist activity - it's fascinating to think about how a scientist (or psycho-scientist?) would go about identifying and treating those cases.

Now, maybe if the movie somehow hinted that this was its aim, it might have been a little more fun to play along with. As it stands, it comes off being a little disjointed and confusing, like it's trying to be too many things at once - a haunting, a possession, psychic powers, and mental illness - while not quite seamlessly melding them together. And with the logic a little hard to follow, and some of the scares coming off kind of cheap (though not necessarily unscary), it left me feeling a little bit less than completely impressed. Then again, it's the first movie about a haunting I've seen that actually attempts a decent séance, which is something I've been looking for for a long time. Even with its flaws, it attempts to be something more than a plain old boring ghost movie, so I think it's worth watching.


  1. I came into this one ready to write it off (like seriously, I don't need another ghost-theme found footage in my collection), but it ended up scaring the crap out of me and there's no arguing with results! I definitely felt it was distinct enough from both PA and Grave Encounters to fit comfortably in the cue, it gave me more of a Ghostwatch vibe.

    As for the psychologist's explanation, I've seen other people have the same issues as you, but I thought the implication was that what we were seeing was a hitherto unproven scientific phenomenon; that mental turmoil in some people can 'cause the experience of poltergeist-like activities and that it even effects other people around her. I thought it was bloody fricking brilliant... all these people with poltergeist activity in the world aren't experience ghosts, they're just experiencing an unknown and rare side-effect of extreme turmoil and schizophrenia. Not the most plausible explanation but I like anything that gives a real world explanation to ghosts.

    I'd have to actually go back and look at all the dialogue again to see if this is something I merely inferred or if it's actually what the film intended, but I *feel* like the psychologist clearly implied it was a new scientific discovery while he was ticking off possibilities. 'Course one of the fun things about found footage is the mystery surrounding the events and deciphering them (since they don't tend to have the wealth of exposition a normal movie would). Like whether the girl in the first V/H/S segment is a vampire or a succubus...

  2. I was reading a lot of comments on IMDb after I watched the movie, and I think I saw a lot of that sentiment. Maybe part of the problem was the doctor's delivery. He presented it so matter-of-factly, in that conversation where he's stubbornly insisting - "no, it's not supernatural", "oh, so is it ghosts, or", "it's not supernatural" - that it didn't come off like he was onto an exciting discovery or working from a fringe medical theory or anything, it's like what he was saying was so obvious that we shouldn't even be surprised to hear it. Which is not out of character for a scientist, to be true, but I don't think it accomplished the goal of explaining what was actually going on to the audience very well.

    Another thing I read about in comments to the movie was about that final scare. Since everyone left the building when it happened, it might actually be evidence that the doctor was wrong, and there really was a haunting. Frankly, I think it was just another cheap scare before the credits (the kind that are so popular in horror), but if you take it seriously, it kind of adds a whole different level, where the scientist thinks he understands what's going on, but all along he was wrong.

    I don't know, it's the kind of movie where not everything falls into place, and it leaves you kind of frustrated. It was fun to watch, and even a little scary, and it has some interesting ideas, but maybe some aspects could stand to be improved.