February 24, 2008

APT. (2006) another haunted high-rise

(2006, South Korea)

Far scarier than Apartment 1303, far harder to see…

Having been disappointed by Apartment 1303, I thought I'd try again with Apt., also known as Apartment or 9.56...

Miss Oh moves into a new apartment but is unlucky enough to witness one of her neighbours commit suicide. She notices that the lights flicker in the apartments opposite hers every evening at 9.56 - the same time as when the suicide happened. When she reports these coincidences to the police, they regard her with cynicism and suspicion. As Oh contacts her neighbours to warn them, she gets dangerously closer to the truth…

While Apartment leans on Ring for ideas, there’s also large splashes of Hitchcock too, resulting in effective scares as well as an involving mystery. Miss Oh has a view of dozens of apartments facing hers, that recalls the setting of Rear Window, without plundering it for ideas.

The acting is anchored by So-young Ko, surrounded by a strong ensemble cast. The only exception is the twitchy long-black haired ghost, who doesn’t quite convince. Isn't there a school for this type of acting by now?

As with many South Korean films, there is as much emotional pain as there is physical, evoking sympathy from the suffering of those trapped in terrible situations.

It’s difficult not to compare this to Apartment 1303, but Apartment is far and away more effective, original and stylishly constructed. But while 1303’s director hasn’t made a decent horror film since Tomie, Apartment’s Byung-ki Ahn improves with every film he makes. He started off fairly badly with the popular Nightmare (Gawi), where there was plenty of bloodshed but little logic, but at least it got him attention. Phone was better, with some remarkable performances, then Bunshinsaba proved more frightening than Japanese films in the same vein.

Lastly, don’t be put off the name of the production company that precedes the film with a customary flashy intro sequence, the unfortunately named Toilet Pictures!

Apartment/Apt. seems to have gotten lost in a muddle of movies with similar plots and samey titles. This is a shame because it’s easily the best of the haunted high-rise genre. It has yet to be released in the UK or US, and in the east it’s mainly for sale in a pricey two-disc set.

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