OneMetal’s resident horror junkie Chris Ward isn’t a huge fan of handheld camera horror films, but found Apartment 143, the feature-length debut of Spanish director Carles Torrens, to be one of the better examples of the style. Chris caught up with the director to find out about the film and whether Carles believes in ghosts.
OneMetalHi Carles. Can I begin by asking you how you became involved with the project?
CarlesApartment 143 originated from all the research that Rodrigo Cortes, the writer/producer, carried out to pen his latest film, Red Lights. As it turns out, the amount of data he gathered was such, that he had enough material to write a second film, which became Apartment 143 (originally entitled Emergo).
In fact, he was originally going to direct the movie himself, but after the success of Buried, he moved onto bigger things. That’s when he approached me with an offer to direct it in April of 2010. I was 26 at the time and ready for trouble, so I said yes immediately. I will be eternally grateful to him and Adrian Guerra, our other producer, for the opportunity.
OneMetalThe found-footage style of horror film has picked up a bit over the past few years, with films like [REC], Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity becoming modern horror staples. Were you directly influenced by those films and what do you feel Apartment 143 brings to the table in relation to the style?
CarlesI would say the core philosophy and conception of my film is closer to [REC] or Cloverfield than the Paranormal Activity series. Those films are mostly improvised, with the actors operating the camera themselves in order to create an alleged sense of realism, and thus leaving most directorial choices at random. Indeed, whatever the actor films is what ends up on screen. The way those movies work is by creating anticipation until it becomes unbearable, and then rewarding you with a scare. That’s what they set out to do and they do it well, but they don’t necessarily work as nail-biting thrillers (they don’t try to, either). Because of the way they’re conceived, it’s hard for those movies to build suspense, to gradually pick up momentum and create an inner rhythm, and if they were filmed using traditional cinematic language, they wouldn’t work.
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, the blocking is highly choreographed, and the filming is always done by a professional cameraman who hits 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. The point is to take a script that could be shot traditionally (with dollies, steadicams, cranes, etc.) and find an analogue cinematic language with which to build suspense just as successfully.
OneMetalThere are quite a few different types of camera used in the film, no doubt forcing some inventive techniques to get the shots you wanted, but how much of a nightmare was it filming like that and piecing all the footage together?,
CarlesOnce again, the challenge with Apartment 143 was to take a script that would work as a regular movie (cinematically-speaking) and approach it using an utterly experimental, alternative film language. Yet, the experiment had to be successful and the rollercoaster needed to be as exciting as if it were shot with dollies and steadycams, so however whacky or creative my approach to a scene would be, I still needed to make sure I hit each beat as effectively as possible.
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 it” 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.
OneMetalWhy was some of the equipment used by the team of parapsychologists pixelated out in some of the scenes?
CarlesThat’s for the audience to figure out…
OneMetalAlthough Michael O’Keefe’s character comes up with his own conclusions the movie is still open to interpretation. What’s your personal take on the events in the film and what are your views on the supposed paranormal?
CarlesI’ve never had a supernatural encounter, so I’m rather sceptical about ghosts and the world of the dead. 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. Thus, I would be open to accept Dr. Helzer’s views on telekinesis or the poltergeist syndrome, should I have the will and the time to read more about the subject, but I don’t agree with his whole ghost theory.
OneMetalWhich films, horror or non-horror, influence you as a film maker and specifically had an influence whilst making Apartment 143?
CarlesApartment 143 is, first and foremost, a film about research, about the thrill, boredom, frustration and excitement of being out in the field gathering data and forming hypotheses. The point is to provide a cold, rigorous, emotionally detached view of a series of events that unfold in a controlled environment set up by a group of scientists, so my main references were Primer and Pi.
Also, I borrowed some of the cinematic language from the show Big Brother, as I had never seen a film before that used security cam footage as its main source of narration (keep in mind I made the film before Paranormal Activity 2 had even come out). Finally, I looked at Poltergeist and some of those early 80’s Amblin films as far as how to approach the family upon which the story is built. I tried to depict them with the same amount of drama, comedy, tenderness and perverse sense of fun as Tobe Hooper did in his masterpiece.
OneMetalWhat’s next for you? Are you staying in the horror genre?
CarlesI have a couple of feature-length screenplays, but it’s too soon to talk about them yet. However, I have just finished a very cool short film called Sequence, which is hitting the festival circuit soon. So look out for it!
OneMetalWe certainly will. Thanks for your time.
Read Chris’ review of Apartment 143 here.