I can't say that I completely agree with those critics who classify Apartment 1303 as a derivative film that does nothing more than combine and repeat many of the clichés that have come to define early 21st century Asian horror. Yes, there are similarities with J-Horror flicks such as Ju-on: an evil, long-haired female ghost tied to a specific, seemingly cursed dwelling; an attempt by a haunted young woman to learn the story of the ghost and thereby free it from its deadly anger; the revelation of the haunting's origins via flashback deep into the movie; a few Ringu-like facial expressions; the presence of a mysteriously creepy little kid; etc. Still, I think this film ultimately moves in a different kind of direction, giving birth to an atmosphere all its own. In doing so, it helps to reveal the true magic of Asian horror, which I can sum up in one word: emotion. While I enjoyed Apartment 1303, it's a far cry from the best that Asian Horror has to offer, yet it still manages to touch the viewer on an emotional level, generating sympathy for the deadly ghost as well as the young girl caught up in its horrors. I don't remember the last time I really cared about any character in an American horror film. As I said, though, Apartment 1303 is far from perfect. I found the plot to be rather ambiguous in places, and I'll admit that I can't completely come to grips with the ending - one aspect of it in particular. Still, though, I was not nearly as disappointed with this film as a lot of Asian horror fans seem to be.
We learn right from the start that something just ain't right about Apartment 1303. After watching one young woman fall to her death from its balcony, we are treated to the sight of another young woman who's seemingly normal one minute, anything but normal the next, and stone cold dead right after that. In the middle of a party celebrating her acquisition of such a great place at such a low price, Sayaka (Naoko Otani) suddenly develops an appetite for dog food, then dons a helmet and flings herself off the balcony. The only person who is not shocked beyond belief by this is a creepy little girl I would dub "the body counter." Whenever a victim nosedives from the 13th floor apartment, she's always there to point out that another one just bit the dust. Sayaka's sister, Mariko (Noriko Nakagoshi), experiences some harrowing little frights of her own after coming to the apartment to collect her sister's things. She soon learns that Sayaka was only the latest of several young women to leap to their deaths from the balcony of Apartment 1303. With the help of a detective (whose presence in the film never really gains a solid footing), she comes to learn the story of Yumiko and her mother. Yumiko's story is an emotionally wrenching one that really tore at my heartstrings, and that may well be why I felt more emotionally committed to this film than most other viewers.
Apartment 1303 is all about atmosphere. I don't think director Ataru Oikawa really tried to scare the audience at all, which may be a primary source for some others' discontent with the film. At the center of everything is this terribly dysfunctional relationship between Yumiko and her mother. Not only is this the source of the haunting, it serves as a much darker reflection of Mariko's relationship with her own mother. That makes for a lot more psychological complexity than a lot of pedestrian horror fans are used to dealing with. Apartment 1303 doesn't cater to the "scare me" crowd, and it doesn't represent the best that Asian horror (or Tartan Asia Extreme in particular) has to offer, but this is in no way, shape, or form a bad movie.