★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.
Does anyone remember that TV show, Friday the 13th: The Series? No? How about something more recent like SyFy Network’s Warehouse 13? Each week our heroes would get a report of some random and often deadly item that they’d have to track down and recover before it could maim, petrify, decapitate, flay, constipate, etc. anyone else. The good guys would trot out to pick up the antique pocket watch, 18th century disco ball, or whatever it happened to be that week, lock it up good and tight, and the day would be saved. Writer/director Haylar Garcia’s Apartment 212 is exactly like that — except that there weren’t any experts to come swooping in and nobody came to save the day.
The movie opens with a woman we don’t know walking into an antique shop we’ve never seen and calling out to get some help from the proprietor we’ve never met. When nobody answers her pleas for sales assistance she apparently assumes everything is free and walks out with a silver jewelry box. Meanwhile, the poor shopkeeper is lying on the floor next to an empty bottle in the back room. Is he drunk? Sadly, no. He’s covered in weird sores and is no longer with us. Poor fella never even got a name.
Next, and somewhat disjointedly, we meet Jennifer (Penelope Mitchell from Netflix’s Hemlock Grove and the CW’s The Vampire Diaries) who’s packed up her life to escape from an abusive relationship. She pulls up to the apartment complex and starts moving in… to Apartment 212 (cue ominous music)!
[Spoiler alert: The apartment has nothing to do with anything. She could have moved into 221B Baker St. or Apartment 3-G and all it would’ve changed is the title of the movie. Well, and her mailing address.]
While moving in she meets one of her new neighbors, Terry (Kyle Gass of Tenacious D fame). As helpful Terry takes Jennifer around we catch glimpses of a few of the other denizens of the apartment complex. None of them ever blossom into characters. They mainly exist as a “get to know ya” vehicle for the two new neighbors. However, the chaff of the cast do their job and Jennifer and Terry become fast friends. Their relationship is actually one of the best things about the movie. Sort of a father/daughter vibe that the actors play very well.
The first couple nights of Jennifer’s new life are a bit rough. Whenever she goes to bed she hears a woman crying — the sound being carried through one of the vents in Jennifer’s bedroom. Constantly crying. All night long. Pillows over her head, yelling into the vent, and taping cardboard over the hole don’t seem to help her get any sleep. And, when our heroine finally decides to go see if she can help this poor, crying lady, the lady kills herself with a stolen shotgun. How rude!
Wait… a stolen shotgun? Why, yes, my uncannily observant friend! Jennifer’s neighbor was none other than the kleptomaniac we met in the antique store at the beginning of the film. Turns out that initial footage wasn’t accidentally left there from a previous project. Ah, well. She’s dead now. But, hey! Free silver jewelry box in the trash the next day! Winning! I mean, except for the odd sore Jennifer finds on her back after that first night…
With her new, only slightly stolen jewelry box set with pride of place in her bedroom, Jennifer gets a surprise visit from Boyd (Chris Johnson also from The Vampire Diaries), her abusive, cop boyfriend. Apparently, having a neighbor commit suicide is a good way to get your info plastered all over cop-land and that’s how he found her. Not that he spends a lot of time in the movie. I’m sure he’s got many more important things to do than be in a horror movie. He’s an officer of the peace, after all. But we do get to meet him and he pops up now and then just to remind us he’s a Bad Guy.
Meanwhile, poor Jennifer has bigger problems. Every time she tries to sleep she wakes up with a new weeping sore on her body. This leads to not wanting/not being able to sleep and pretty soon she’s sporting full-on meth addict chic. She does go to the doctor, though, so kudos to the filmmakers for that. It seems like folks in horror movies rarely think about going to the doctor so it was rather refreshing. Ahhh… science. But I digress.
The doctor lets Jennifer know that the “sores” are actually bites. Which does nothing for her state of mind, but at least now she knows, right? What follows is a flurry of bug sprays, exterminators, and mosquito netting culminating in a desperate search for… anything that might help. Does Jennifer figure out what’s slowly consuming her each time she tries to sleep? Can she escape the manipulative Boyd and start a new life? Will Terry ever finish organizing his plastic army men? As a firm believer in spoiler-free reviews, those are not questions for me to answer. Should you care? Hmmm… Okay, that I can help with.
I wanted to like this movie. It won Best Horror Feature at L.A.’s Shriekfest for pity’s sake. The acting is decent, the dialog works for the most part, and the concept is great. Especially if you used to like Friday the 13th: The Series (not that I’m admitting that so don’t think that I am). Sadly, Apartment 212 has a few things I just couldn’t get over. First and foremost is the domestic abuse theme. Yes, for sure, 100% a worthy theme that deserves more exposure, but this movie’s use of symbolism was about as subtle as a 2×4 to the face. Toning that down would have made the message all the more powerful.
Beyond that, it was the usual collection of issues you see in low-budget fare: a dangling bit of plot here, our lead actor fighting with a muppet there, and so on. Not to mention the shift to the 3rd act is almost like you’re watching an entirely different movie. So… should you watch it? Meh. If you like the actors and/or have already seen The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) too many times, sure. Otherwise, save your pennies for something else.