We talk with Apartment 143 director Carles Torrens in our latest interview. The found footage film was scripted by Rodrigo Cortes (Buried, Red Lights) and takes a scientific look at paranormal events that plague a family within their apartment. With the film receiving a limited theatrical release, we had the opportunity to talk with Carles about joining the recent wave of found footage films and looking at paranormal events from a scientific point of view:
Apartment 143 differs from many of the recent found footage films in that it really focuses on the character development over scares. Was this a concept you worked on with Rodrigo Cortes or was the script pretty much complete by the time you took a look at it?
Carles Torrens: This was a screenplay that Rodrigo Cortes developed on his own and he was planning to direct it as some point. The movie was conceived before Paranormal Activity was released to theaters, so that is why this film feels different. When Cortez jumped onto Red Lights, the Apartment 143 screenplay was in limbo. Rodrigo and Adrian Guerra were familiar with my work, so they offered me the movie.
Although the concept was developed before Paranormal Activity, you took on the project after a new wave of found footage films had already been released. What did you think you could bring to the table that these films didn't?
Carles Torrens: Many found footage films start out with a 20 page outline, they give the actors the camera, and they have them improvise. I'm not interested in that. The screenplay was locked from the start and it would still work if you shot it like a regular film.
What attracted me was the challenge of telling the story with a different film language that I had to come up with from scratch. Normally, you'd have a slow push that creeps around the actor and the ghost comes behind him. I had to come up with a different beat to fit the same type of scene. Every camera, angle, and texture has a narrative purpose and is very much controlled.
Can you tell me about the challenges you faced during filming? I'm especially interested in learning about some of the destruction scenes and using multiple camera angles.
Carles Torrens: This was my first time working with special effects, but I knew that I wanted to use CGI as little as possible. Most of the effects you see are practical effects. For example, many of the particles you see flying around are actually us pouring hamster litter into a huge fan, but we'd use CG to later erase the fan. It's all a magic trick and I was interesting in exploring special effects as an optical illusion.
I think that Kai Lennox gave a really convincing performance, especially later in the film. Can you tell me about your experience selecting and working with the actors in this film? Did any of Kai's performance change from what was in the script?
Carles Torrens: There was very little improvisation, so the idea was to get the best possible level of acting from everyone. With reality TV, the audience expects a much higher level of realism, so I wanted the movie to feel improvised and natural even though it was scripted. We found a very fine crop of thespians and rehearsed for a week, but characterization was a huge concern of mine, so we continued to work on character development leading right up to the shoot.
I feel that scene is the centerpiece of the movie. Most of the film is a cold and detached look at a series of events at an apartment from a scientific point of view. There is an alleged supernatural event that is being documented, but you also start to realize that something is eating away at this character in the world of the living.
This movie features events most people can't explain, but looks at them from a scientific point of view. Do you want the audience to leave thinking that most paranormal events can be explained by science?
Carles Torrens: It's the kind of movie where everything has an explanation. I wanted the audience to follow the clues, pick up on them, and come to their own conclusion. The movie is open to interpretation, but everyone can come up with a satisfying conclusion if they listen to what the characters are saying. The parapsychologist in the movie says that anything that we can't explain by science is thrown into a bag called "the supernatural". Instead of just lumping everything together, maybe there are different explanations for each phenomena that we'll be able to understand.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. Before we wrap up, I was curious about upcoming projects. Will you be sticking with horror for your next film?
Carles Torrens: I have a couple of projects in the oven, but I'd rather not talk about specifics. I find that projects can come and go very easily, but I will be staying within horror, thriller, or fantasy for at least one more film. I feel like it's a great lab for testing things as a new directory and storyteller.