Kai Lennox in APARTMENT 143, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
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Apartment 143 (2011/2012)
Also Known As: Emergo
Opened: 06/01/2012 Limited
Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: R for for language and some terror.
A team of parapsychologists sets out to investigate a series of anomalous phenomena taking place in a newly occupied apartment. Telephone calls with no caller, mysterious shadows, extraordinary light emissions, flying objects, and exploding light bulbs, are some of the events they will face while recording their every step with state-of-the-art technology. Using infra-red filming, digital photography, psychophonic recordings, movement detectors, and magnetic field alteration meters, the group's attempts to contact the "other side" will grow increasingly dangerous as they near a point of no return...
About the Film
In some way, APARTMENT 143 (originally written in 2009) was born of the research process carried out by Rodrigo Cortes while writing RED LIGHTS: eighteen months spent studying skeptical science, parascience, the supernatural, the metapsychic, with access to documentation and casuistry of all kinds of inexplicable phenomenology and its scientific and parascientific arguments. RED LIGHTS was an ambitious project, one complicated to finance, and so while the project advanced, Cortes decided to use part of the knowledge and information acquired to write a pure genre screenplay, an openly terrifying horror film, a reverse side to complement the psychological thriller of almost political inspiration which his most recent work, RED LIGHTS, - starring Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy and Robert De Niro and currently in post-production -- had become.
The dramatic conflict is approached almost in the manner of a generic code; a family going through difficult times is forced to deal with a number of violent and inexplicable threats which puts their physical well-being in jeopardy and reveals hidden conflicts. A metapsychic investigation team sets about collecting the phenomenological data in a scientific way, and with them the mysteries concealed in the family home. Cortes designed the project as an exploration of formal language, a narrative and emotional study of point of view in order to distance it from the conventional and ensure a unique, formal perspective: a raw, scientific document, a rigorous exposition of the bare facts, the perspective of a research team in the house over three days and nights and its record of the events which took place there, the data collected. At the time (the beginning of 2009) PARANORMAL ACTIVITY had still not gone on release and found footage films were still few and far between in mainstream cinema. But APARTMENT 143 established a point of view which distanced itself from the arbitrary and went beyond the artifact, requiring a formal, singular and rigorous narrative and technical philosophy.
However, the screenplay of BURIED came the way of Rodrigo Cortes and producer Adrian Guerra, becoming a priority which soon took the shape of a tornado: just a few weeks after acquiring it, they were shooting the project in Barcelona with Ryan Reynolds, with the results we all know today. When the maelstrom of BURIED and its success at Sundance and the international market allowed them pause, Cortes and Guerra quickly saw how the ideal conditions had arisen to undertake an ambitious project at the creative and financial level, such as RED LIGHTS. However, they also decided at the same time to pick up APARTMENT 143 again, ruling out the initial idea of shooting it in Spanish, as initially envisaged, and turning it instead into an international production with a cast chosen in the main from the LA talent pool.
Cortes did not think it such a great idea to take on board two projects which were very different in approach but not dissimilar in subject matter, but he had already undertaken detailed work on the visual and narrative language of the film, and the screenplay had created a lot of interest amongst international buyers. Guerra and Cortes took the opportunity to offer a break to a first-time director looking for a way into the industry - in this case, award winning short film director Carles Torrens, formed professionally in the US and living somewhere between Los Angeles and Barcelona -- offering him a project with a clear international vocation. Torrens accepted the challenge, reacting with relish to the idea of taking part in a cinematic proposal of this order. Just a few weeks later, the cast was being selected in Los Angeles, London and Barcelona under Nicole Daniels and Courtney Sheinin (responsible for the casting of SOMEWHERE, by Sofia Coppola and BEGINNERS, by Mike Mills amongst others).
In August 2010, for four weeks of suffocating heat, an apartment in downtown Barcelona became the focus for all kinds of paranormal goings-on, captured by sixteen different kinds of format, from high definition video to night vision cameras, to VHS cameras, security cameras and cell phone cameras. The radical realism of the project is the main visual and narrative challenge; what appears on screen are a number of impossible, supernatural manifestations registered strictly and implacably by cameras operated by the characters themselves, or security lenses, in order to experience every sensation in terrifying first person.
APARTMENT 143 is the end product of more than seventy hours of material recorded in the context of a supposed paranormal investigation, condensed into a visual document 80 minutes long. It took just one look at the screenplay and Rodrigo Cortes' production notes to realize that I was facing a unique challenge, one which was terrifying and entirely different.
Throughout the film we see how three parapsychologists try to deal with a series of extraordinary events without renouncing the most rigorous scientific protocol, trying to fight the supernatural from the rationalist point of view. Confined within the four walls of a supposedly haunted house, their odyssey is captured by a network of cameras covering every corner of each room in the apartment, giving a raw, ascetic perspective to a terrifying reality.
The key to the film's unusual visual look lies in making sure that the spectator does not question the veracity of events on the screen. Every single element, from the characters' reactions to the scientific rigor with which the supernatural is analyzed, aims to achieve a reality close to the documentary, a sense of spontaneity carried out in a purely organic way.
Precisely with this aim in mind, a low-profile cast was selected, a group of largely unknown but extraordinary actors of whom it could be said that they are some of the best actors whose names are still unfamiliar to the public. Only in such a way could a total identification with reality be achieved, free of previous iconic images the characters might awake in us. The screenplay, with its continual state of dramatic progression carefully measured out throughout, marks the emotional beats of each character's conflicts and emotional perspective, line by line, serving as a guide for a shoot carried out, in the main, chronologically. The actors and the direction unit had to be very much on their toes, working from a cast-iron road map established beforehand, to detail every turning point of the story, as well as the reactions and specific lines to be "captured" in order to make every scene work just right.
The cast was divided into two groups - the "scientists" and the "family". Each group was asked to approach the film in a different way, so that the clash of their respective worlds could be better captured. The first group had to learn basic scientific concepts and technology used in the film, in order to be familiar with the jargon and to transmit genuine interest and knowledge as to the supernatural events encountered. The second group, for its part, was asked to confront events in a more dramatic way, baring themselves emotionally with a more marked subjectivity.
Regarding the overall look of the film, it is worth mentioning that the cameras documenting the situations become a character in their own right in the film. Although the illusion that the material has been organized arbitrarily is created, there is in fact a very careful criteria at work in terms of which camera is used at each different moment and why. All kinds of formats are used, and with the film finally blown-up to 35mm, a visual language is completed which is adapted to each moment, to the rhythm of the story, with surgical precision. The help received from Rodrigo, with his greater experience in textures and in combining narrative languages, with his narrative criteria applied to the project from its beginnings, but still very open to ideas despite that, has been fundamental throughout.
The different results obtained by each camera, which vary depending on the resolution, material, angle, and lenses used, allow us to plot the emotional rhythm of every scene in very effective fashion. For example, the green hue of night vision offers us moments full of tension and suspense, whilst a more conventional mini DV brings us closer to scenes which are of a lower tempo, and more 'domestic'.
But for all of this, nobody should have any fears: the approach taken is that of a commercial horror movie. APARTMENT 143 is an 'undercover' mainstream picture, experimental in terms of style and narrative, but with the structure and rhythm of classic horror films. And that, finally, is what the public has to feel. We have tried our utmost to ensure that the spectator has as good a time as he or she did at the most recent horror blockbuster they enjoyed at the cinema.
-- Carles Torrens, Director
THE PHILOSOPHY OF APARTMENT143: RADICAL AND TANGIBLE PHYSICALITY
The effectiveness of APARTMENT 143 is based on its plausibility, on its sense of realism. Everything we see must seem real; each image must bear truthful testimony, a faithful document, terrifying, palpable, from the reactions of the characters to the paranormal activities registered with scientific precision.
Being able to assemble a cast of extraordinary actors was fundamental to endowing the dialogues with truth and a sense of the organic, dialogues which could not sound "solidified" beforehand, but instead built from carefully measured documents and instructions. The filming had to be alive, completely organic. Some of the performances given are simply awesome.
In each scene established, the actors received precise indications from Carles, not only regarding their dialogues, but also their internal perspective vis-a-vis the situation faced and how they ought to react in consequence, which opinions they ought to accept or challenge. On occasions, they received different, sometimes even contradictory information. At other times, the actors were unsure about how their fellow actors were going to react; instead, they were thrown in together, forced to interact amongst themselves -- in each emotional response -- in a way coherent with their experiences and knowledge, but the obligation to be in a state of constant alert.
In the same way, a large part of the most violent paranormal casuistry took place without the actors being forewarned; violent banging echoing through the walls, furniture flying around the room, lights exploding violently, plunging everything into darkness, forcing them to react to events without being able to rely on just their eyes, the implacable nocturnal cameras filming away, recording each and every one of their reactions.
It is the plausibility which legitimizes the terror for the spectator, who perceives the threat as implacable, solid, and real.
The idea of the shoot was very scientific, from the point of view of protocol, and formally real. The interdisciplinary paranormal investigation team registered every event with their own video cameras (as a way of recording events for their own internal purposes) and planted security cameras equipped with infrared nocturnal vision sensors all around the house.
Every image which we see, every situation described, everything registered, has its origin in these cameras, which play the part of voracious and faithful witnesses of an inexplicable frontier reality. Some of the testimonies come from interviews where the investigation team tries to collect relevant information about the family, others are taken from conversations recorded dusting the constant filming of the investigation underway...; we are witness to violent, spectacular poltergeist phenomenology recorded by different measuring instruments, turning each incident into credible testimony.
The cameras have different sensibilities and textures, ranging from direct filming in HDV of general events, to interviews illuminated for each recording, infra-red filming of nocturnal scenes, with granulated, verdant tones, and recordings with maxed out photographic sensitivity, monochromatic, especially raw: DV, Hi8, cell phones, Harinezumi and GoPro cameras, security cameras, VHS... There are very some very plastic, high resolution recordings matched up with images taken straight from mobile phones, blown up in a way which is both true and terrifying, breaking up the image into high contrast pixilated photograms which suspend the spectator's disbelief. The verdant hues of the nighttime filming alternate with dichromatic blues, with the black and white of the security cameras, and the fleeting optimism found in some of the daytime scenes when we pause for breath.
Once more, the key lies in narrating impossible events with extreme realism. When each one of the above mentioned elements is used to reach that level of suggestive reality, APARTMENT 143 becomes a unique emotional, auditory and visual experience.
-- Rodrigo Cortes, Writer/Producer