The Haunted House Project (2010) dir. Cheol-ha Lee
Today's three entries are mostly ghostly. Considering the mammoth success of the Paranormal Activity franchise, it's to be expected that some filmmakers with low ambitions might try to wrangle that same lightning. As of this writing, no independent paranormal FF film has come close to replicating the Paranormal Activity films' simple and effective formula (easily on display with minor variation in each of the three (soon to be four) films, all of which--I must point out--are available to rent or to own, prospective filmmakers take note). Rather than mocking up a streamlined scare presentation in line with those films--following their clear program of metered frights and escalating chaos--the copycats see fit to linger their productions on a whole lot of nothing, hoping that their atmospheric locations or actors' "performances" can occupy the gaps. Guilty of these sins is today's first entry, South Korea's The Haunted House Project, which barely manages to distinguish itself from the smattering of recent paranormal investigator-centric FF flicks (Grave Encounters (2011), 8213 Gacy House (2010), Episode 50 (2011), Evidence of a Haunting (2010), today's Apartment 143 (2011), and so on ad nauseam). The location is a rundown cookie factory (the filmmakers mistaking "horrifying" and "horrifyingly delicious" for synonyms) and the investigators--though clearly giving it a go--could trick you into believing they arrived on set sans pulses. Predictably, it's not until the final act that the film even begins to register as a horror film, and I will admit that these twenty or so minutes have a visceral quality to them that I found pleasant. Two moments in particular stood out to me as deserving of being housed in a better film: in one, a crew member is unexpectedly dragged through a doorway by forces unseen and found afterwards with his head twisted 180 degrees; the second concerns a skittish female investigator who has been possessed by one of the cookie factory's ghosts and now engages in some too-flexible torso contortions. Even then, after singling them out, I can't call either moment striking in its originality, but they are elevated by the film's better than average cinematography. Regardless, there's nothing new with the application of its FF method either-- in this case the action is filtered through the further contrivance of a news crew following the investigators. A slow news day, and dull bullhorn to my second.
The Amityville Haunting (2011) dir. Geoff Mead
The Asylum, the production house responsible for The Amityville Haunting, is more widely derided for their endless string of micro-budget mockbusters (see: Transmorphers (2007), Snakes on a Train (2006), American Warship (2012)) all timed for release in conjunction with their blockbustin' better halves, the intention being to (I guess) trick old folks out of their rental money (an astounding business model in 2012, I'm sure). Anyway, Asylum must have been pretty thrilled when the low-cost FF movement reared its pretty head as a bankable format because they've already cranked out more of them than just about anyone else-- Monster (2008), Paranormal Entity (2009), 8213 Gacy House (2010), Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes (2011), The Amityville Haunting, Alien Origin (2012), and 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck (2012). The only one I'd seen prior to the specimen at hand was 8213 Gacy House-- it was enough to confirm for me Asylum's mission of mediocrity. But I'm glad I gave The Amityville Haunting a chance anyway, because it's more entertaining in its moronic abandon than the previous three entries in this marathon combined. There's no foundational significance to the location being the Amityville house beyond brand recognition (no attic, no trademark weeping windows, one brief shot of flies), as it seems to be no more than a random, modernized suburban house that happens to eat people (no kidding, there are actual slurp/crunch noises in the soundtrack). The film is constructed around a quite consistent series of house-related deaths occurring to anyone who happens to visit the new family living there (a realtor, a worker from the moving company, the town's resident seducer of teenaged daughters, an old Army buddy). The family is, for awhile anyway, amusingly blasé about the gruesome deaths taking place all around them, and the regular pace of the carnage doesn't leave much room for one's ire at the film to rise too high. The most entertainment the film offers is derived from the C.O., the family's tween-aged son, who expresses fright as if the emotion is akin to that accompanying a stubbed toe and who is always willing to deliver some trenchant observation or maxim to the camera (eg. "Nobody knows what it's like to be a kid except kids!" and "I got in trouble for spying on my sister-- who cares? Everybody gets spied on once in awhile"). Helpfully, his camera's video chooses to corrupt and degrade itself during most of the on-camera death scenes, in consideration of the film's budget. Undeniable junk, but approachable as such.
Apartment 143 (2011) dir. Carles Torrens
While by no means a flawless film, Apartment 143 easily swoops in to steal the day. It's a solid and consistent flick with a simple yet intriguing story to tell. With no nonsense, it does just that. I presume we can rest some of this light praise on the shoulders of the film's screenwriter, Rodrigo Cortes, who in 2010 delivered the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Buried, an equal parts entertaining, gut-wrenching, and preposterous little film, and who here manages to cleverly combine the two most popular found footage tropes of the moment (hauntings and demonic possessions) into one sound, mysterious package. But director Carles Torrens is no slouch either, giving his film a distinct visual appearance despite its found footage approach-- the image here is bathed in muted blues and browns, being as murky and downtrodden as its grim back story of sickness, betrayal, and death. He also manages to corral some decent performances from his cast, who put a good deal of believable emotion into their roles when required. And yes, the film lavishes some necessary attention onto its poltergeist activity, coming off on more than one occasion as pretty creepy indeed. What separates Apartment 143 from so much of the paranormal investigation FF chuff is that it refuses to squander our time setting us and the characters up for the haunting-- the investigators enter the apartment knowing something paranormal is up, and the apartment wastes no time proving it to them. Being so forthright about its paranormal activity from the word "go" allows the film to build up to some intense set pieces. But the film isn't entirely humorless either: my favorite scene features a shot of a widower being forcefully tossed through a glass door by a poltergeist smash cutting to a different shot of said widower and the rest of the crew sitting sedately at the kitchen table eating breakfast. Throw in some delightfully goofy pseudoscience and an engaging mystery surrounding the poltergeist's source-- and I'm well pleased. The lame "shock" ending won't deter from enjoying the remains. Three to go.
The end is nigh: next time, Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County (1998), In Memorium (2005), and (blech) The Devil Inside (2012).