Apartment 1303 (2007) is a standard Japanese horror movie about a woman moving into a haunted apartment. All things considered, I think it is a marginally above average horror movie. Its story is fairly interesting. The scares are fewer than usual, since more screen time is spent on telling the story instead. However, there are mysterious things happening in the story that are not explained at all. The climax features cheap effects, perhaps limited by its budget. Although I can’t say I like its ending, this ending works according to horror movie conventions.
It is surprising to see that it gets remade, perhaps all the best Japanese horror movies have already been remade or taken. The US-Canadian remake of this movie – Apartment 1303 3D (2012) (Blu-ray release 2013-6-3) made some significant changes to the story. However, most of these changes weaken the story severely. For example, replacing a whole sequence of backstory by a few lines of dialogue not only removed the impact of those scenes, but also made the motive of the ghost less clear. The extra screen time gained is wasted on adding annoying scenes about the protagonist arguing with her mother. In addition, reducing the little girl’s screentime and role in the story, although removing an unanswered mystery in the original movie, also greatly reduced the impact of her presence in the story.
Although many people criticize the standard portrayal of ghosts in Japanese horror movies, this disastrous remake indirectly illustrates that Japanese does it for a very good reason – it works. In this movie, it clearly does not work. If I show anybody a single screenshot of the ghost in this movie without explaining anything in the story, no one would be able to know that she is a ghost. Japanese standard portrayal of ghosts does not suffer from this problem.
Then there is the lighting. I have never criticized movies for their lighting. However, in this movie, the bland and bright lighting, coupled with the human-looking ghost who looks, speaks and acts like an ordinary woman, effectively prevent the scary scenes from being scary. (The Shutter remake in 2008 also suffered from a similar problem, but to a less extent.)
Not only is the story changed. The ending is completely changed too. However, this ending is ridiculous and tremendously dissatisfying. Worst of all, it breaks its own rule about what the ghost does.
With all these problems, no wonder the remake got universally bad reviews. If there is one thing that is good with the remake, it’s the poster.