Home > Film > Tales of Terror: Haunted Apartment (2005)

Tales of Terror: Haunted Apartment (2005)

This is interesting as a made-for-television idea converted into a full-length film production. Japan had an anthology series called Tales of Terror. As an attempt to ride on the back of its popularity, the production company decided to expand one of its plots into this film. It has a fairly conventional set-up with a young girl and her alcoholic father moving into an old apartment block which turns out to be cursed. Not the most original of ideas but, in the right hands, it can be serviceable.

In one sense, it has the feel of an older style of portmanteau structure with the main plot line diverting into detailed flashbacks where key elements of the block’s history are explained. There are also two extended sections in which one family leaves the block, playing by the rules, and a second family attempts to escape the curse by going to Osaka. Other than this, the majority of the narrative is shot in the apartment block which leads to a reasonably good claustrophobic feel to the whole.

This is the kind of film that stands or falls by the quality of the cinematography in service to a coherent narrative. The director, Akio Yoshida, does his best with Masahiko Omi behind the camera on what was obviously a limited budget. But they fall into the usual trap of trying to show the malevolent spirits. The special effects makeup and limited prosthetics are embarrassingly bad. From what I could judge, we are not into CGI territory at all. So all the effort to create and build atmosphere disappears in a cloud of sad smiles when the first spirit appears. This is a real shame. The viewer’s imagination is always better than the special effects produced by a film-maker on a tight budget. Had everything been left unshown, we would have had a far superior film.

So why am I even bothering with the review? Films are really all about what we see. If this is less than impressive, the experience is wasted time. Except this does have a very good film trying desperately to get out from under the lack of funds and the poorly structured script.

The really boring version would have a cast slowly whittled down to one of two survivors. While watching, we could all play the game of guessing who will make it to the final reel. Then, in the best traditions of gore, we would either have everyone hacked to pieces by the spirit, or there would be a major battle with some magic emerging at the eleventh hour to save the day. But this film has far greater pretensions than that. Indeed, rather than seeing this as a routine film about a group of people trapped in a building by a curse, we should see it as a carefully constructed rumination on the nature of revenge. Most of the people trapped in the block have a secret. Somewhere in their pasts, there were (or are) victims. Is it not right that these victims should have the chance for a little payback?

Playing Aimi, Mei Kurokawa is a 17-year old girl still grieving for her mother, who was killed in a car accident some two years before the action starts. Her father, played by Mitsuru Fukikoshi, was formerly a top reporter, but has since taken to the bottle. Their relationship is distant. The girl reaches out to a boy of about the same age played quite touchingly by Yoshihiko Hosoda but, as is always the way in films of this kind, this is never going to blossom into anything real. Perhaps it’s sad he has to die but, through this death, the film is making a statement about the role of the innocent. Sometimes, they have to suffer. That quality of innocence is what creates real victims. If those who die are guilty of some crime, we see their deaths as retribution — as having some moral justification. But would we blame innocent victims for wanting revenge, even post mortem? Well, this can be morally complicated. Suppose the way chosen to punish the living is to torture the innocents they love. With this set-up, we move inexorably to the final reel which sees the necessary act of revenge played out to lift the curse and Aimi finally able to find some peace after two years of grief and suffering.

Now don’t mistake the thrust of this review. There are some real inconsistencies in the script as shot. But the intention is beautifully visible beneath the clichéd camera work, the clunky special effects and the robotic acting from most of the cast. With more time and money, Tales of Terror: Haunted Apartment (2005) could have been a genuinely excellent piece of horror cinema. For want of a nail. . . and so on to the end of the idiomatic chain of events leading to failure.

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