Directed by Eduardo Sanchez
Starring Amy Smart, Dennis Chan, Tim Chiou
Release Date: October 6, 2009
Back in the summer of 1999 I refused to get caught up in the hype over The Blair Witch Project, but when the movie came out on video that October I watched it and delighted in rediscovering the sensation of what it was like to enjoy an old-fashioned horror flick that eschewed gory special effects in favor of building an atmosphere of mounting dread and the unseen terrors roaming the woods. Nevertheless, the movie was a huge hit and soon became part of the pop culture lexicon. It’s just a shame that none of the actors from the film or even its two directors went on to the prolific careers they deserved.
One of Blair Witch‘s directors, Eduardo Sanchez, has only made two films in the ten years since its release. The most recent of which, Seventh Moon, has seen some decent film festival play and is now available on DVD as part of the Ghost House Underground series. It’s clear that Sanchez is still trying to recapture some of that same filmmaking magic that conjured his greatest triumph so far as a director, but the time for that may have passed a long time ago.
Newlyweds Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart) have decided to spend their honeymoon in China so they can further explore the rich culture that is part of the birthright Yul has been mostly unfamiliar with his whole life. On a cab ride through the countryside the couple awake to find that their kindly driver Ping (Dennis Chan) has abandoned them in the middle of nowhere to go ask for directions, or so he claims. The only sign of life for miles around is a supposedly deserted village with boarded windows and assorted captured living animals scattered across the village grounds. The only radio station in the young couple’s range broadcasts ominous-sounding forewarnings that Yul can barely understand. As it turns out, our happily married youngsters have picked a hell of a night to visit China, for this is the night of the Seventh Moon when the dead rise from the grave and are free to walk among the living. Before this night is out the ravenous ghouls will take a few extra souls back to the underworld with them. In order to make it through the night Yul (who knows a little more about what’s happening than he lets on) and Melissa must stick together and abandon all preconceptions of the spiritual realm because these dead souls have come to play, and they tend to play rough.
Hoo boy was this one an ordeal to watch. Of all the really bad movies I’ve seen this year, and I’ve seen some awful ones, Seventh Moon stands out from the pack for committing one of the cardinal sins of cinema: being dull. I’ve been more thrilled and frightened waiting to get my appendix removed. Whatever potential this movie had for being a first-rate horror film or at the very least a tight and tense B-movie completely vanishes after the first ten minutes. Director Eduardo Sanchez is constantly undercutting what little tension and atmosphere the story managed to build with a combustible cocktail of poorly lit handheld cinematography, a shoddily-written screenplay, annoying lead characters, and derivative creature design work. You spend the entire movie wishing you were watching something better, like Bloodrayne or Showgirls. Despite an interesting concept that would have normally made for a good old fashioned horror show back in the day, Sanchez (who wrote the script based on a story he concocted with Jamie Nash) seems so hellbent on recapturing his Blair Witch Project glory days that he fails to realize this time around he’s playing in a different ballpark.
The reason Blair Witch was so effective was because the horror in the film was mostly accomplished through simple sound effects and an enveloping dread that allowed the viewers to conjure the true terror from the sordid depths of their own imaginations. In Seventh Moon the horror is mostly on the screen in the form of the hideous dead souls but as a result of the dark and murky cinematography you can hardly see them at all. When these vicious creatures do go into action (and can actually be glimpsed) those scenes are the best in the movie bar none providing Seventh Moon with a little visceral kick in the midst of the overpowering ennui, including a claustrophobic attack on Yul and Melissa while they’re helplessly trapped in their car. Plus the design of the souls is startingly effective even though they, and the story itself at times, tend to invoke much better films such as 28 Days Later and The Descent. Their look of ghoulish pale skin and sunken eyes and cheekbones would’ve been far more appropriate for the vampires in the 2007 film version of I Am Legend. Plus the decision to shoot the film in a quasi-documentary format with the murky lighting and handheld cameras cripples Seventh Moon from the beginning. The reason that approach worked so well for Blair Witch was because the characters in that movie were supposed to be making a documentary. Seventh Moon on the other hand, while it’s also a work of fiction, is presented as a linear story and not as a faux documentary.
In addition to the poor cinematography and lethargic pace (seriously folks, a horror movie is not supposed to as entertaining as watching paint dry) the final key element that sends Seventh Moon sinking to the depths is a screenplay bereft of tension, suspense, or character but instead loaded down with repetitive action and occasional moments of weirdness, such as a bizarre dream sequence that I won’t spoil for you if you have intentions of seeing this movie but all I’ll reveal is that it involves sex and monks. Beyond that the story consists of Yul and Melissa going from their car to a building then back to their car and then back to another building all the while enduring relentless attacks from the dead souls. The only real plot developments start to occur towards the end but by then it’s way too late. At first I wondered if I was in the right frame to watch Seventh Moon, because after all the movie came at the end of a marathon viewing of all four films in this year’s Ghost House Underground series so I figured I was just burned out. No dear friends it wasn’t me, it was this movie. It sucked.
The cast and crew do try their best though. Even though their characters go from charming newlyweds to arguing idiots before the first quarter of the movie is up, Tim Chiou and Amy Smart acquit themselves decently in the roles and show more personality than the terrible script will allow them. The cinematography by Wah-Chuen Lam achieves its occasional moment of somber horror whenever it’s fixated on the creepy production design by Yuet-nam Lau. The music by Tony Cora and Kent Sparling gets the job done without being overpowered by the film’s lack of focus. Mike Elizalde and Cass McClure spearhead the make-up effects team and do a damn fine job even when director Sanchex keeps their work mostly shrouded in darkness.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released Seventh Moon on a halfway decent DVD as part of its annual Ghost House Underground series, produced in collaboration with Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert’s horror film production company Ghost House Pictures.
The film itself is presented in a fine anamorphic widescreen picture that does often come alive, mostly during the opening sequence that occurs in daylight, but when it comes to the nighttime photography that occupies the bulk of the film the picture suffers. The picture is supplemented by a strong English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and optional English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
DVD Bonus Features
The extras are few but ultimately more satisfying than the movie itself. Director Eduardo Sanchez teams with lead actress Amy Smart for a pleasant conversational audio commentary that provides a decent overview of the production and is kept interesting by the interplay between director and actor.
The commentary is bolstered by a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes focusing on various aspects of the production and the mythology behind the story:
“Ghosts of Hong Kong: The Making of Seventh Moon” (12 minutes) does exactly what the title implies by giving us a good look at the production of the film.
“The Pale Figures” (5 minutes) turns its attention to the single best thing about Seventh Moon, that being the monstrous ghouls terrorizing our young heroes. The featurette focuses on the design and effects work that went into their creation.
“Mysteries of the Seventh Lunar Month” (8 minutes) takes a look at the Chinese mythology at the heart of Seventh Moon‘s story. There is some good information provided in all three of these featurettes but ultimately they’re all worth a single watch and no more.
“Ghost House Micro Video featuring Black Light Burns” (3 minutes) is merely a bad music video consisting of a montage of scenes from the four films in this year’s Ghost House Underground series set to the music of some awful rock-metal band I’ve never even heard of. I turned this off after about a minute.
The extras are rounded out by trailers for Seventh Moon and a gallery featuring trailers for the other three Ghost House Underground films: The Children, Offspring, and The Thaw.
A decent DVD presentation not withstanding, Seventh Moon was a humongous waste of my time. In attempting to capture some of the lightning in a bottle that gave birth to The Blair Witch Project, writer and director Eduardo Sanchez took a solid horror movie concept and directed it like he caught the lightning in his head and not in a bottle.