As mentioned before, I am forever looking for some film that will make me feel the way I felt after watching The Ring or The Exorcist. I want to be scared. I want to feel unease. With this wish Zompie, Wendigo, and myself sat down to watch Apartment 143.
The film follows a group of three paranormal activity researchers. One’s an older Doctor of Over-explaining, one’s a blonde woman whose accent is more of a mystery than anything else in this film, and the last is a young, ambiguously ethic man.
Anyway, this group has been assigned to investigate the apartment of a man and his family, and I’m going to call this man Pussy McFindsomeballs despite all my feminist tendencies, because this father is the mat under a doormat. His teenage daughter treats him like crap in front of others, and he always seems on the verge of tears. If I had tried to treat my skin-calloused, Irish father the way this girl does in the film, my father would have dug a hole, stuck me in it up to my head, and allowed his beautiful rose bushes to grow around my face until I learned some elderly respect. (You’re not allergic to bees, are you Kate? Oh, well.) But this guy can only sniffle and politely ask his daughter to cooperate with the film crew. The mother has passed on, we’re told. First we’re told she was sick, then later it changes to a vague car accident. The daughter is almost too hateful of the father, with multiple instances of her screaming out, “Don’t touch me!” At this point, Zompie, Wendigo, and myself all called out “Molestation. Poltergeist and/or vengeful mother ghost because of molestation.”
There’s also a four or five-year old boy. Rather than use him as a creepy child, which I’ve previously discussed my frustration with, the child is used as an audience surrogate. The investigators use a lot of equipment, and the child’s questions serve to let the audience know what’s going on. This I can get behind, and I find it a useful technique.
Anyway, they set up motion detectors and cameras in every room. There’s a scene where the phone keeps ringing and ~no one’s there~ (side note, why do they have a land line? It’s stated that they haven’t lived in this apartment long, and that they’ve moved around a lot since the mother’s death. Plus, you know, it takes place in 2011) and the crew decides to record whatever is on the other side. What they record is ear-piercing, and the young man investigator’s ears are so damaged he has to wear cotton in his ears the rest of the film.
To our delight, the investigators used a bunch of technobabble with the words “meter,” “optics,” and “vibrations” thrown around with a bunch of other nouns attached to confuse the audience into thinking they know what they’re talking about. There’s even a device that’s so new, so high-tech, that it’s blurred out. So we were allowed to use our imaginations about what it could be. I chose to visualize it with a giant dildo flapping about on top, as my mind was at this point looking for any source of entertainment. Our favorite device, however, was the “Stroboscopic Lightometer”. This apparently really exists, except it’s not used to capture spooky ghosts.
Anyway, the team captures a spooky ghost…
It’s a 3 second flash, but it’s 2 seconds too long. We could clearly see it, and therefore we could pick the visual effects apart, taking us out of the movie.
The team then has a psychic come in, and he asks for a higher chair, as the other world’s vibrations or whatever are a step higher then ours. “That’s why you only see ghosts from the waist up,” he declares. The father says they only have the one chair, so they get the psychic some phone books to sit on. (He’s a small man. He just likes to feel tall.) Nothing happens with the psychic or his phone books, because the ghost/spirit/annoyance possesses the teenage daughter instead!
It yells at the father, telling him he has no right to talk to his daughter, not after “WHAT [he] DID TO HER!!” Molestation, we called it! Anyway, possessed girl screams a bit, then passes out. The investigation team turns Dr. Phil on the dad and get the whole story. Her mother was a whore! Well, she was sick, bipolar or something. Anyway one day he caught her with another man, and slapped her. The daughter witnessed this, and never forgave the dad. Later, the mother died in a car crash. These sentences are all related, somehow. The investigators declare this a case of a poltergeist, as they often happen around young girls. But then, the girl becomes possessed again! Shit starts flying around and the father and investigators make their way down a wind tunnel towards the daughter’s room, where she’s screaming. They open the door to see the daughter levitating and spinning like a dervish. The father tries to grab her hand, but he can’t! The fans are too strong! Ugh, can this girl return this man back to the father store and get a better one? The father does eventually manage to grab his daughter’s hand, then everything stops.
The next shot opens on what appears to be the next day, where police are puttering around. Dr. Explains-It-All says the daughter was suffering from the same schizophrenia which had affected the mother. So that’s why objects were being thrown around! That explains why she levitated, and colored contacts, waaay better than a poltergeist! I, too, wish to suffer with the crippling mental disorder schizophrenia, since it apparently grants super powers. I’d never have to get up from the couch and grab a beer again. Come here, beer!!! I’ve got schizophrenia!
The team takes down all but one of the cameras, which they decide to leave for the cops to examine, because they’re setting us up for a last minute scare that all of us saw coming. It’s the mother’s ghost climbing on the wall!!! (I thought it was a poltergeist/schizophrenia symptom?)
O.K., break-down: First off, these mockumentary scary movies just don’t do it for me, so I went into this biased; I’ll admit that. And the over-the-top technobabble was something countless movies are guilty of. What I think was wrong with this movie, is that it couldn’t get its story straight. Ghost of crazy mother? Poltergeist? Schizophrenia? It had no idea. Maybe this was on purpose, as a way to leave mystery and speculation. But in order for those two things to work, the audience has to have an investment in the characters. We’re not going to speculate or wonder if we don’t give a crap about anyone in the film. And the last bit pissed me off the most. Why even state, “We’ll leave that up there for the police.”? We know how cameras work. The police need the footage, not the camera itself. Why say anything at all? We could have just assumed they missed one. That’s the problem. They treat the audience as if we are dumb.
They tried to plant seeds for us to use our imagination, but I feel like that was only because the filmmakers themselves had no idea where this story was going. And then they go the complete other route, and over-explain things to us, the lowest common denominator.
- The Unexplained is more frightening then the Explainable-Well kind of. As stated above, any mystery seemed to be from a lack of story arc.
- Children are not Creepy: The child in the story was innocent, cute, and an audience surrogate, so this was done fine.
- The Jump Scare: Used very badly at the end.
- Don’t Show the Goddamned Monster: I saw too much of Mama Scary; I got comfortable with her, and worse, we could clearly see how the effects were done. It was like that episode of Doug, where he’s too afraid to see the monster in the movie, but when he finally keeps his eyes open, he can see the zipper of the costume. Don’t let us see the zipper.