Ahn Byeong-ki’s APT is pretty basic K-horror stuff. The genre can be effective at times, with its ominous focus on retribution and female ghosts meting out that vengeance. It isn’t known how many of Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” are Korean ghost ladies, but perhaps that’s a digression for another time.
The female ghost scenario is played out with a bit of a gender-bending twist in APT, an auspicious but topsy-turvy film that has far too many irons in the proverbial fire. It tries to be a typical ghost story, but it also presents some social commentary about the nature of living in a busy city and disappearing in apartments. It also tells a story about the abuse of a disabled girl by those who pledged to help her.
The movie stars South Korean actress and model Ko So-young as department store employee and display organizer Oh Se-jin. She has moved into a high-rise apartment building. One day, Se-jin is heading home from work when a woman in red (Yoo Min) tries to commit suicide and wants to take Se-jin with her. The event spooks the protagonist, as one might imagine, and she takes several days off work.
Feeling the pitter-patter of little red feet, Se-jin becomes paranoid and starts watching different events in her apartment complex. She soon discovers that people are dying, some by suicide and some by other suspicious means, at 9:56 at night. Se-jin tries to convince the sceptical apartment dwellers of this horrifying reality, but she’s dismissed as the crazy lady who spends time spying on her neighbours.
Byeong-ki slams a lot of material into what could’ve been a pretty tight narrative, throwing in ghosts and the mistreatment of a disabled girl (Jang Hee-jin) who lives across the way. That narrative is an important and compelling one, but parts of it feel like they belong in another movie. Stuffing that, along with a mentally-challenged lad who may or may not be killing people, into the story stretches things.
Among the more interesting aspects in Asian horror films are the ghosts. This has created a number of clichés, most of which are used profusely in APT. From the death rattle to face-covering hair, Byeong-ki doesn’t have a lot of control when it comes to these elements. He also doesn’t provide much by way of innovation
The project looks really neat, though, and Byeong-ki has a sleek touch. Cinematographer Yun Myeong-sik creates tension out of a series of low camera angles and quick cuts. Nothing is inventive, but APT looks smooth enough and that helps create perpetual pressure. It’s too bad Byeong-ki doesn’t know what to do with it.
But in the end, APT is just too cluttered and tortuous to recommend. The clichés have been done before and to greater effect in other films. So-young’s character has little personality to speak of, even if she does get a Rear Window thing early on. Instead of playing with her sanity, the screenplay takes her on a straight and narrow path to the inevitable finish.