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Massachusetts native Laurel has been living in New York City for a few months with a roommate she barely knows or sees because of their opposite work schedules. When Laura discovers her roommate’s dead body in their shared apartment, the living space no longer feels comfortable, and the uneasiness keeps her awake long after the police and coroners remove the body that has left them baffled with a cause of death. The mystery of her roommate’s demise, the agony splayed on the corpse’s face, and knowing her lifeless body has been undiscovered for at least a couple of days just next door to her room leaves Laura shuddered to the point of reaching out to her ex-boyfriend to hear a friendly, comforting voice, but bizarre and supernatural occurrences slip Laura in a state of panic and fright with a presence that has suddenly haunted her urban home and with the unearthing of her roommate’s black magic paraphernalia and a demonic symbol under her bed, Laura just uncovered a hidden nightmare that would have been a life saver if listed in the roommate wanted newspaper ad.
Atmospherically creepy and part of the reason I don’t like having roommates, “The Dead Girl in Apartment 03” is the little known, highly effective supernatural haunt horror from writer-director Kurtis Spieler. Spieler has crossed our paths previously with the 2013 released lowkey thriller under the guise of a werewolf with “Sheep Skin” distributed by Unearthed Films and the review came out on top with a positive write up that noted the film as “a fresh suspenseful spin on lycanthrope mythos.” Since then, the American filmmaker has re-directed and completed the 1984, John Liu unfinished cult and martial arts actioner, “New York Ninja,” for a Vinegar Syndrome exclusive release and has also preceded his dead girl paranormal enigma model with “The Devil’s Well” that has a similar plot but with a found footage medium. Spieler’s latest venture provides the opportunity to work again with a couple of actors from “Sheep Skin” under the banner of Invasive Image with the director co-producing alongside longtime collaborator and Invasive Image co-founder, Nicholas Papazoglou, and one of the film’s principal leads and “The Sadist” screenwriter, Frank Wihbey.
“The Dead Girl in Apartment 03” is one of those indie films that snags and headlines a genre icon to thrust the title into the spiraling coil of a massively oversaturated low-budget horror pool in the hopes that the film sticks to the now desensitized fans who have been burned too many times too often by radioactive junk. The tactic is not always necessarily nefarious or a fool’s paradise to lure in fans into a schlock storm of insipid independent media as “The Dead Girl in Apartment 03” proves that though the original “Friday the 13th” actress and scream queen, Adrienne King, might be the top billed, the actress is definitely not the star and the film still manages to provoke a keen spine-tingler with a lesser known and younger cast dipping their toes into the what King has already lapped twice, if not three times, over for decades. King’s name becomes the proverbial foot in the door for new, upcoming talent for audiences to be exposed to, such as with Laura Dooling playing as, well, the spookily chipped away, panic-induced Laura. Dooling immerses us into her character’s complete physical cutoff from friends and family as a woman stewing in an uncomfortable sixth sense that surrounds the disturbing faculties of her roommate’s death. Dooling nails the superb chiller despite the one-sided act with no other cast to react off of for the majority of the runtime, paralleling her character’s isolation with her own to root out goosebumps unaccompanied. King and Frank Wihbey head up the detective detail as the around-the-block Detective Richards and the fresh understudy Detective Miller. The older woman, younger man character dynamic rides a similar trajectory to their professional colleague one and I’m not talking about cougars, if that is where your mind take you. Though she certainly can be a cougar if she wanted to, King is more of a mentor on camera than she is off camera, playing the seasoned detective who warns the ambitious Miller not to get involved with active case women. Wihbey’s a suitable fit as the double-edged sword eager rookie to King’s cooler, calmer approach to bestow path-treaded wisdom for a reason. One of the highlighted performances stems from “Sheep Skin” actor Michael Shantaz, a tall and intimidating presence that sizes up Dooling’s terror tenfold from the very first scenes of the deceased’s dazed boyfriend Derrick crossing the threshold into Laura’s apartment. Subdued and stony-faced, Shantaz adds to the tangible terror in contrast to the paranormal one at hand, yet both are ostensibly woven from the same thread. Fellow “Sheep Skin” actor Bryan Manley Davis along with Jasmine Peck and Jennie Osterman (“Dickshark”) fill out the cast.
I’m always intrigue, or maybe just easily entertained, by titles that goad into viewership for the simple fact of fulfilling title-spurred questions with answers. The title “The Dead Girl in Apartment 03” elicits many unexplained uncertainties that become an itch you can’t scratch until the end credits fade to black. I want to know who is the Dead Girl? Why is she dead? What’s terribly important about the specified Apartment 03? Do the Dead Girl and Apartment 03 correlate more significantly somehow in the story? All these internal queries, prompted by a non-generic, puzzling title, are just cascading through the mind in a deluge of I-gotta-knows and for the most part, the team behind the quaint thriller does rub the itch to a smoothed over satisfaction while also working the edits, the angles, the sound design, and the lighting toward a decent scary movie. What’s fascinating about the story is the exploration of the immediate after when Laura is left shivering in shock, solitude, and a sense of grim thought knowing she’s been living with a corpse for the last 48 hours. She hits all the stages of a post-traumatic situation by reaching out to family and friends, diving into comforts like making tea or taking a shower, and even finding ways to keep busy and remove the macabre image from her mind by cleaning up the crime scene herself. That portion of etching into Laura’s psyche distracts her in an ironic, detrimental way because as she attempting to self-soothe by any means possible, she oblivious to the grotesque presence coming and going and in-and-out of the negative space with its body jerking as it glares at Laura with blood running down it’s shirt. Laura is also not cognizant of the things that go bump in the night as they barely make a blip on her radar or trigger her into a deeper stage of fright until it’s too late. The climatic ending stretches the story further into love hexes and demonic contracts that perk up the ears in interest as the story gets into the nitty-gritty of details of what’s happening and why but doesn’t quite reach the finish line of resolve with a deflated conclusion that supposed to leave you shocked when it really just leaves you.
Not your typical bottom-of-the-barrel budgeted or gore-drenched debauchery Wild Eye Release, “The Dead Girl in Apartment 03” looks and feels like a big-budget ghost film with all the muscle-seizing suspense. The bold independent home video distributor delivers the Kurtis Spieler picture onto a Blu-ray collector’s edition, which, again, is atypical for the label. The AVC encoded, high-definition, 1080p Blu-ray is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Spieler has defined himself as a master of the negative space and, fortunately, there’s no lossy image from a deficient compression, leaving a crisp view of the lurking, crooked dead entity soon to fill the void or not as the director tends to position the camera for an uncertain possibility. Details are relatively good within a muted color scheme and many of scenes are dark lit, bordering on a neutral to high contrast with a palpable delineation, with only the dead girl’s room projecting a stony mustard illumination and spotted moments of candle and hand torch lighting. Other scenes, more so involving Detective Richards and Miller, dip into the cop-noir with gel and back lighting that looks vivid and mysterious on screen. The surprisingly backwards tech of the English language LPCM stereo relies heavily on dialogue than ambient jolts of jumps scare sounds though there are a few, effective examples about and is balanced well with the dialogue that is a little on the mumbling side but comprehensible and free of obstruction, interference, sound design, or otherwise. The dual channel stereo works and is adequate for the size of the picture that doesn’t require a multi-channel audio format as there are no explosions, whirring bullets, or a large cast to create depth range. Soundtrack composed by Connecticut based, VHS-inspired synthwave artist, Brian Burdzy – aka Satanic Panic ’81, delivers a low and lively and often deadened (pun intended) but rhythmic sound reminiscence of John Carpenter scores that gives Spieler’s film a very “Halloween” vibe. Aforesaid, Wild Eye Releasing doesn’t accompany a ton of special feature material with their releases unless on their Visual Vengeance sister label but the seemingly new special edition line, in conjunction with a regular standard release, bears more supplementals for the storage. An audio commentary with filmmaker Kurtis Spieler , a behind-the-scenes featurette featuring cast and crew retrospective interviews of their time on the film, Spieler’s 2011 short western thriller “No Remorse for Bloodshed” (though mistitled on the back cover as “No Remorse Bloodshed,” Take 3S Video – a montage of actress Laura Dooling humorously pretending to be clipped by the marker clapper on third takes, an image gallery, and Wild Eye Releasing trailers of “Smoke and Mirrors,” “Wicked Ones,” and “The Bloody Man.” The physical aspects of the release include a clear Blu-ray latch snapper with a macabre illustration of the titular dead girl holding a knife on the front cover, as you’ll see in the image below for the trailer. The cover art is reversible with a still image of Laura Dooling in one of the more thrilling scenes on the reverse side. Inside the snapper insert is a folded mini poster of the SE’s O-case slipcover with another illustration of two more characters in a 70s inspired retro design. The region free, unrated film clocks in with a 72-minute runtime – an easy, breezy thriller with punch. “The Dead Girl in Apartment 03” is a perfect selection for a Halloween night movie. An eerie apparitional residuum that’s character-driven, tense, and thoroughly carried by the small cast.