I considered not reviewing this one. I thought it might be more fun for everybody if I limited reviews to better-than-average films, and this one is pretty dead-center. But at the end of the day the only useful thing about film reviews is that they can help people make up their minds about whether they want to see a movie or not. They can be very useful for the reviewer, mind, but the audience (even though I’m pretty sure there’s only one of you) doesn’t gain much except, maybe, the chance to avoid wasting their time.
In that spirit, I have a few things to say about Apartment 143. It’s another Netflix horror, which, I’m beginning to think, is generally a good indicator of a film’s quality.
First and foremost–and despite that ominous introduction–this movie isn’t terrible. It’s a solid effort in an admittedly stale format (Blair Witch-style camcorder video combined with security-cam footage, as made famous by Paranormal Activity). The problems are serious ones, but they don’t result from the lazy, derivative, splattery approach that characterizes the majority of horror films. It gets an “A” for effort. Unfortunately, good intentions, the road to hell, etc. etc.
The premise, essentially, is thus: some ghost-hunters, led by a professor of something-or-other (psychology? parapsychology?), set up shop in the apartment of a widower and his two children who have been experiencing the requisite strange events. That’s pretty much it. As you can imagine, scary stuff happens, various theories are advanced, the plot thickens, there is a dramatic revelation, and things seem to be resolved. Cookie-cutter. Not necessarily bad, mind. Ghost-hunting has been extremely popular for the last decade or so, and it’s something that people are actually engaging in in the real world. Also, parapsychology is very much a real field. So it makes sense (actually more sense that most horror movie set-ups) that this is going on, that this is a relatively familiar activity that stands to be represented multiple times in multiple films.
I seldom hold lack of originality against a film (or game or novel), unless it reaches Darksiders-like proportions (you get a freaking portal gun, which makes orange and blue portals. Come on.). Critics these days are highly attuned to what they think of as innovation, to the extent that they deride films that follow familiar patterns without considering what’s good about them. I say, for something to fit within a given genre, the expectation is that it will accomplish certain things characteristic of that genre. As such, we should look beyond the issue of innovation for its own sake and consider how successfully a horror film (or any other genre, in any other medium) accomplishes the otherwise trite things we expect of it.
Which is why Darksiders sucks. Not only was it a ripoff, it was also not fun to play.
Apartment 143 has very few scares; the ones that exist are familiar stuff from other entries in this sub-genre (loud, prolonged screams from on-screen characters at unexpected moments, audio levels that spike to painful highs, and the requisite jump scares). All of this is okay. As recent reviews have suggested, I actually prefer subtler, moody pieces that create thick atmospheres of dread to constant barrages of frightening imagery. But Apartment 143 suffers in the most important area, for a film that relies primarily on fixed-camera footage: the dialogue.
The script is mediocre at best, and the cast is, in that sense, a perfect fit. Exceptions are Rick Gonzalez, who gives perhaps the only believable performance as the tech expert of the ghost-hunting team, and Damian Roman, apparently a first-time child actor who is, for a change, unbearably cute (as opposed to outright bizarre, as most children in horror films tend to be).
Alas, Michael O’Keefe, the generic professor, gives the most forced, teleprompterish performance I’ve seen in quite awhile. The lovely Fiona Glascott is so-so, though the script hardly gives her an opportunity to portray any emotion beyond smarmy self-satisfaction.
As one Netflix reviewer mentions, Kai Lennox does give a decent performance near the very end, in the father character’s inevitable (and predictable) meltdown. But as the same reviewer observes, it’s too little, too late. Apartment 143 is, again, a good try. It’s almost okay. But almost, as we know by now, doesn’t count. 70/100.