Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of people decide to document ongoing supernatural phenomena in their home with a set of ever-recording cameras.
This time around, it’s a trio of parapsychologists (Michael O’Keefe, Rick Gonzalez, Fiona Glascott) invited into the eponymous abode of single father Alan White (Kai Lennox) to study the hauntings that seem to have followed the family ever since his wife and mother of their two children (Damian Roman and Gia Mantegna) passed away. Naturally, objects begin to move on their own, the temperature will suddenly drop in any given room, creaking doors, ringing phones, so on, and so forth.
I can understand why Magnet, Magnolia’s genre arm, would distribute Apartment 143 (Emergo) as the umpteenth echo of Paranormal Activity’s considerable box-office might. I’m at a little more of a loss to determine why Buried director Rodrigo Cortés would write, edit, and produce a found-footage thriller more familiar than frightening, especially when he tackles similar material so playfully with his own Red Lights, due out this summer. Granted, this film probably went into production before that one, and director Carles Torrens adheres well to the concept without laboring through the usual “this is totally real” pretense (though music stings are inexplicably plentiful); however, it's a film that adheres even more strictly to ghost story clichés.
Camera formats change every once in a while to keep things from getting too visually stale, alternating between surveillance cameras, head-mounted models, and more formal over-the-shoulder interview arrangements. It's a move which hardly alleviates the fact that too many dialogue exchanges involve our scientists explaining their gadgets at great length and splitting hairs as to the proper definition of the phenomena at hand, while most of the scare scenes are old hat routines of panning a strobe light across an empty space until something pops up or hosting a seance that draws ghostly attention. When a character explains towards the end that the team had to test every hypothesis, it feels like a coded cop-out for the filmmakers to cycle through every tried-and-true scenario on a haunted-house checklist.
The cast can’t really be faulted on its part, with every actor playing their respective types well (puzzled experts, curious kid, angsty teen), though Lennox gets to run the greatest emotional gamut as the harried widower, culminating in a tremendous, sustained confession scene that is arguably more effective than any of the scares on display. The climax that follows is a nicely-orchestrated bit of mayhem, but even it has to be capped off with a “have our cake and eat it too” explanation and a dusty gotcha sting. Apartment 143 runs just about 75 minutes once the credits begin to roll, so the slack is never too much to take. It’d be a bit easier to bear, though, if the suspense wasn’t in such short supply.
Apartment 143 (Emergo) is currently available on demand through cable providers, Amazon, iTunes and such, and will open in select cities starting June 1st.