Found footage shocker Apartment 143 arrives here in the UK on DVD Monday 15th October, and my suggestion is that if you have any interest in horror, ghosts or creative film-making in general, then you should get your hands on a copy. You can read my review of the film to see my thoughts on what is one of the scariest films you are likely to see all year.
Director Carles Torrens kindly answered some questions about the film, and also shared his thoughts on a number of subjects including his influences and news of his new short film, Sequence. Even if you have not seen the film yet, the interview makes for a very interesting read, from a director who clearly has a huge passion for making movies, and has a serious talent in doing things right. The found footage genre often hits a wall where fans feel like it can’t do anything new, or even scare us anymore, yet every so often a film comes along to not only re-establish found footage horror as a terrific genre, but really scare you in a way you have not been scared before. Apartment 143 is that film, and I would suggest not watching it alone!
The interview follows the trailer as a quick reminder of what you can expect from this terrific film.
Please introduce yourself to Horror Cult Films, tell us a little about yourself and what you have going on right now.
Hi there. My name is Carles and I love movies just as much as the people reading this interview, hopefully. I’ve directed three award-winning shorts, two TV-movies, and Apartment 143, my first feature, which I made when I was 26. I have recently directed a short that’s hitting the festival circuit soon, and I got a couple of feature-length projects in the oven. I used to be a fat kid but I slimmed down when I hit puberty. What’s up
Your new film Apartment 143 is released on 8th October here in the UK on DVD, where did the idea come from for the film?
The film originated from the yearlong research that Rodrigo Cortes, the writer/producer, underwent to write his latest film, Red Lights. Being the workaholic that he is, the amount of data he compiled was such, that it allowed him to write not one but two movies, and that’s how Apartment 143 was conceived.
At first, Rodrigo was going to direct it himself, but the success of Buried propelled him onto bigger adventures, so he decided to entrust me with the film, which was a great honor. Originally, the screenplay took place in Spain, but we decided to translate it into English and set it in the US, a culture I’m well acquainted with for I’ve lived in L.A since I was 18.
Apartment 143 will no doubt draw comparisons to the Paranormal Activity franchise, do you think these comparisons are fair and what are your thoughts on these comparisons?
To be quite honest, Apartment 143 was written when Paranormal Activity 1 was just a bootleg DVD going around the Hollywood agencies (it hadn’t been released commercially yet), and Rodrigo had only heard about it. Furthermore, when I directed it back in August of 2010, Paranormal 2 hadn’t come out yet, so I had never seen a film that used security cam footage as its main narrative source before.
Hence, though the comparisons are inevitable, I really had no frame of reference when creating the look and feel for the film (my sources of inspiration were Primer, Pi, Poltergeist, and the show Big Brother), so I’d like to think the film’s DNA is closer to the aforementioned movies.
Yet, the biggest difference between my film and the Paranormal Activity series is its core philosophy. Those films are mostly improvised, with the actors operating the camera themselves in order to create an alleged sense of realism, a fact that results in moments where the tension decreases by default.
In my film, however, every single choice has been meticulously planned ahead of time to make sure the rollercoaster ride is as thrilling as it can be. Indeed, everything is scripted, every camera angle and texture has a narrative purpose, and the camera is operated by a professional cameraman who makes sure to hit every beat as effectively as possible. Hence, every “casual” pan, tilt, or camera jerk is intentional, even if one may get the feeling that the footage has been captured and assembled at random.
I found Apartment 143 a lot scarier, more frantic and much more intense than the Paranormal Activity films. For me, your film wasted no time getting into the action, and the entire movie was a relentless experience of superb scares and very interesting dialogue. With so many ideas on offer, is there a chance you may return to do another film like this?
Thank you for the kind words, first and foremost. With the oversaturation of ghost films that are filling the screens right now, I’d rather explore other genres and styles, but I don’t disregard coming back to it in the future.
Rodrigo Cortes, the director of Buried and Red Lights, wrote Apartment 143. How was your experience working with such a brilliant director?
It was an amazing experience and I definitely learned a lot from him. Rodrigo taught me the importance of knowing how and when to build anticipation, as well as compressing and expanding time to generate suspense. Similarly, his input in the editing room was priceless.
Will you collaborate again with Cortes?
There are no immediate plans, but you never know what the future holds.
How was the brilliant location and setting for Apartment 143 decided?
I remember the location being a big concern of mine, since the screenplay didn’t go into much detail as far as what kind of apartment building we were dealing with. I kept going through all kinds of options and architectural styles, but I couldn’t quite find anything I truly liked. Oddly enough, the architecture in Japanese horror films seemed to fit the most with my vision, but obviously, it wouldn’t have made sense to use it.
So finally, I started looking at Western remakes of those films, and stumbled upon the setting of Dark Water and Pulse. Though those apartments were still a bit different from what I wanted, they definitely put me on the right track as to what to look for. After researching at a lot of reformed industrial buildings and even more Japanese films, I finally had an epiphany and wrote a 5-page treatment on how the apartment was supposed to look like. It was the night that Spain won the World Cup, I remember it vividly.
When we started location scouting, I couldn’t find a building that contained all the elements I wanted, so we shot the elevator, the hallway, the apartment interior, and the building exterior in four different places.
Can you explain about the superb use of cameras and the different angles you were able to create?
What I liked about the Apartment 143 screenplay was that you could shoot it like a regular movie and it would still work, as opposed to films like The Blair Witch Project, which, if you filmed it traditionally, it wouldn’t.
Indeed, the challenge lay in hitting all the story beats as effectively as if I had employed dollies, steadycams, and cranes, but using an entirely analogue cinematic language instead. The script never specified how each scene had to be shot (aside from acknowledging the existence of security cameras), so I was constantly struggling to come up with solutions with which to tackle each situation. Hence, if I needed a close-up, maybe I would have a character pull out a cell phone and “get there” for me, or if I needed to evoke a certain mood, I would come up with a texture that did the trick.
For instance, there’s a scene involving several characters running around in a small space carrying out several activities simultaneously, which I wanted a very chaotic feel for, so I decided to give them head cameras. Similarly, I chose an old, VHS texture for the kid’s introduction, for I wanted to convey the innocence and nostalgia of a home movie.
All the actors in the film gave superb and very believable performances, how did you manage to get them to do their jobs so well?
I was very lucky to have such high calibre actors working on my film, so casting was a huge part of it. Then, I made sure to create very elaborate backstories with them, and work on the characters’ interpersonal relationships even in areas that weren’t in the film.
During rehearsals, I had them keep a journal, where every morning I would text them a scenario (it was different for each actor) and they had to write about it as their character.
When Apartment 143 was first announced, it was said that the film would “revolutionize filmmaking altogether”, do you believe you have achieved that?
That was a ridiculous statement that someone (I don’t know who) published on a website, and which unfortunately went viral. I don’t think anyone in their right mind could ever make such a claim and keep a straight face. When I read it, I had quite a laugh, but reading people’s reactions to it made me laugh even harder
The special effects in the film are terrific, how were these designed and achieved so well?
Most of the effects were practical, using CG only as a way to enhance them or do wire removal. Alex Villagrassa, the brilliant mind behind the special effects of the REC movies, worked alongside Gabriel Pare and Maria de la Camara, our production designers, to achieve a good balance between both techniques. The latter two have a very extensive background in theatre set design, so they know a lot of old school tricks that still work ten times better than most computer-generated stuff. I was a newbie when it came to SFX, so it was a definitely a learning experience for me.
In the film the group of parapsychologists are testing all areas of science before considering that a ghost might be in the apartment. What are your thoughts on the existence of ghosts?
I’ve never had a supernatural encounter, and I haven’t read anything that has turned me into a believer, so I’m rather sceptical about ghosts per se. However, I do believe there’s unexplained phenomena that science is choosing to ignore despite the evidence being clearly there. The same way you can develop an illness by repressing feelings and emotions, I do believe there’s people whose repressed traumatic experiences can manifest themselves in rather surprising ways. Personally, I think the answer lies more in the living than the dead.
The film raises some interesting questions, and at times can be a little controversial with how Dr Helzer attempts to find the truth. Is his character based on anyone in particular, and do you feel those intelligent questions about the existence and creation of ghosts will have audiences discussing your film for a long time after?
Dr. Helzer is a completely fictional character straight from Rodrigo’s mind, as far as I’m concerned. However, as I was building his backstory and working with Michael O’Keefe, the actor who portrays him, we drew a lot of inspiration from Barry Taff, a famous parapsychologist who served as the main consultant on Poltergeist and The Entity. He also started a parapsychology program at UCLA in the 70’s.
As for audiences discussing my film for a long time… well, that’s every director’s dream, isn’t it?
What are your thoughts on the genre of found footage horror right now?
While it’s true there’s a saturation of this type of films nowadays, found footage is just a narrative device, as is having a voice-over, using flashbacks, or shooting an entire film on a steadycam. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s a style. Ultimately, what matters is the story you’re telling.
I found Apartment 143 to be a near flawless experience; it was pretty much perfect but forgive me in asking, but why the money shot right at the end? For me it was the only part of the film that I didn’t like.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and they’re all equally valid. Personally, I don’t see the last shot as a “money” shot, for it provides a key piece of information that ties the story together. It’s not gratuitous, for without it, you wouldn’t get all the pieces of the puzzle. But it’s perfectly OK not to like the way it’s executed, a fact that goes for the entire film, or any film at that.
What do you have planned for the future?
I have a couple of projects in the oven, but it’s too early to talk about them. However, I just directed a short that I’m really happy with, and which is hitting the festival circuit real soon. It’s called SEQUENCE, so look out for it!
You clearly have a great skill at directing horror; can you share with us your influences and some of your favourite horror films?
I’ve always liked John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper, and George Romero, though some of the best horror films out there were made by filmmakers who aren’t necessarily considered “horror” directors. The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, 28 Days Later, The Omen, or The Haunting were all made by people who have tackled a wide variety of genres.
Right now, I’m a big fan of Takeshi Mikee, James Wan (I thought Insidious was phenomenal), or Eli Roth, and I also consider Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects to be one of the best horror films in the past fifteen years.
Finally, if you were to spend an evening in a pub chatting with any director alive or dead, who would it be and why?
It would be Thomas Edison, and I’d ask him if he was happy with Topsy the Elephant’s performance, or if he wishes he could have shot a second take.
Matt Wavish and Horror Cult Films would very much like to thank Carles Torrens for taking the time to do this interview, and for being so open and honest. Once again I must urge any readers to go and see Apartment 143, you will NOT be disappointed. We would like to wish Torrens every success in his future projects, and personally I am really looking forward to seeing Sequence.
Apartment 143 will be available here in the UK on DVD from Monday 15th October.