There isn’t really a whole lot of reasons to watch Byeong-ki Ahn’s “APT”, as the director has made the exact same movie at least 3 times now, counting among them “Nightmare”, “Phone”, and “Bunshinsaba” — all films about vengeful female ghosts bent on haunting the hell out of a poor innocent heroine unless our heroine can figure out the reasons for said haunting and right the wrongs. You know, that old thing. It’s the same premise you’ve seen in the last 100 or so horror films out of Asia in the last 8 years (ever since “The Ring”), and will continue to see until the international audience stops importing them, which doesn’t seem to be anytime soon judging by the genre’s continued popularity, owed in no small part to repetitive remakes by various Western countries.
The only real argument for even wasting your time with “APT” is to see how seamless director Byeong-ki Ahn’s camera tricks have become, as he performs a series of sleight of hand maneuvers to reveal his Asian female ghost in various situations. At this point in his career, Ahn has become so adept at the pan and reveal gimmick that it’s quite impressive to watch a master of the craft ply his trade, and even though you’ve seen it many times before, and can most likely predict every beat within the scene, it’s still quite the skill to behold.
The film itself follows the misadventures of one Se-jin Oh (So-young Ko), a lonely, single career woman who hasn’t much of a social life. One day, while walking home from work, Se-jin encounters a creepy Woman in Red who throws herself in front of an oncoming train — while trying to drag Se-jin along with her. Although she survives the encounter, Se-jin’s life becomes a terrifying game of, “She’s watching you! Look out! No, behind you! No, under your bed! Oh hell no, she’s right next to you!”, as the Woman in Red returns again and again to haunt poor Se-jin. You’d think the girl would just get it over with, but no, apparently Asian people, once deceased, are really cruel bastards.
And oh yeah, people are dying in the apartment complex across from Se-jin’s, all of the deaths coming precisely at 9:56 p.m., which also happens to be when the lights in the apartments turn off for some mysterious reason. What’s a lonely career woman dodging her boss’s phone calls while also playing hide and seek with a persistent ghost to do? Apparently it’s an excuse for a game of “Rear Window”, where Se-jin spies on her neighbors using binoculars (apparently a crime in South Korea , as a police Detective threatens our heroine). To further the film’s references to Hitchcock’s film, there is even a wheelchair bound character named Yoo-yeon (Hie-jin Jang) who Se-jin befriends. The character switcheroo by Ahn is duly noted.
Overall, your ability to be scared by “APT’s” many Boo moments depends entirely on your familiarity with Asian horror films. If you’ve seen one or two entries in the genre, then “APT” is more of the same — sneaky female ghosts that moves unnaturally (being dead and all), loud, screeching music accompanied by an appearance of said sneaky female ghosts, and a past that must be uncovered in order to stop the killings. Maybe. Twist endings are always an available option for the ambitious filmmaker in these movies.
“APT” does have a couple of stellar sequences, one about halfway into the movie, and the other immediately following. In the first, our heroine is inside her bathroom when the Woman in Red appears, standing in the bathtub behind the shower curtain. Instead of running, Se-jin calmly turns and walks out of the bathroom, slips into bed, and pulls the covers over her head. She’s forced to lie trembling in bed as the sound of the Woman in Red’s high heels click-clack on the bathroom tiles as the ghost walks to the bathroom door. Moments later, a young schoolgirl who Se-jin befriends gets her own personal encounter with another female ghost (there are two ghosts in the movie — or are there?) that moves with a crickety, scratching noise. In both sequences, Byeong-ki Ahn allows the scenes to play out in torturous slowness, filling the soundtrack with the sharp click-clacking of the Woman in Red’s high heels and the scratches of the second ghost.
Character-wise, we have your usual assortment of victims with hideous pasts, and a leading lady who is interchangeable with the 1,000 or so that has come before her. Which is unfortunate, as our introduction to Se-jin gives the impression she was a real spunky go-getter and strong-willed, such as when she rebukes her boss’ criticism of her work without hesitation, much to his chagrin. Alas, Se-jin loses any semblance of an original personality very quickly, leaving yet another generic heroine trapped in overly familiar confines within an overly, and getting more so with every entry, familiar genre.
I hesitate to call “APT” good, but it isn’t entirely an awful experience. This slight recommendation is buoyed by director/co-writer Byeong-ki Ahn, who knows how to stage a scare scene like no one’s business. While it’s true that the scares are easy to predict, right down to the nano-second for the true genre fan, the film is nevertheless impressive to look at, and the atmosphere is oftentimes creative. I’ve seen worst, but I’ve also seen better. “Phone”, with its spunky reporter as the lead, remains Ahn’s best version of, well, the same movie.
Byeong-ki Ahn (director) / Byeong-ki Ahn, Pool Kang, So-yeong Lee (screenplay)
CAST: So-young Ko …. Se-jin Oh
Hie-jin Jang …. Yoo-yeon
Seong-jin Kang ….
Ju-seok Lee ….