Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Seventh Moon (2009)

Eduardo Sánchez returns to direct his third film after co-helming The Blair Witch Project and directing his under-appreciated Altered. Like his previous films, Seventh Moon keeps the cast small and the action psychologically intense, creating an atmospheric film. Yet, Seventh Moon is probably my least favorite of Sánchez’s projects, hampered by unnecessary shaky cam and too much repetition.

Newlyweds Melissa (Amy Smart) and Yul (Tim Chiou) are honeymooning in Yul’s home country, China, during Hungry Ghost month. Every seventh moon on the seventh month the gates between the living and the dead open and the dead are free to roam the earth. Chinese leave offerings for the dead so they won’t enter their homes and play evil tricks on the. Melissa and Yul happily go along with the traditions, but don’t believe in the ancient legends. They have their driver, Ping (Dennis Chan), drive them to a destination in the country, but Ping gets lost and must wander to a nearby village to ask for directions. When he doesn’t come back, Melissa and Yul go looking for him, but find only live animal offerings tied up in the village’s courtyard. None of the villagers will open their doors and Yul can’t quite make out what they keep chanting. Sufficiently spooked, Yul and Melissa head back to the car and try to drive away, but after something dashes across the dirt road, they crash the car and must continue on foot as the spirits of the dead close in on them.

From the get-go Seventh Moon failed to really grab me. From Yul and Melissa taking part in the rituals and burning offerings in the city to when they ended up in the desolate countryside I just never got fully invested in the story or the characters. I appreciated that the writers, Jamie Nash and Eduardo Sánchez, tried something new and didn’t stick with a traditional Western horror story but I just didn’t enjoy how the story was executed.

First of all, the unnecessary shaky cam got really annoying really fast. Its use made sense in The Blair Witch Project, but I was baffled by its use here. Does Sánchez really want to be known as “that guy” who uses unnecessary shaky cam in all his films? I understand using it to put the audience “in the moment”, but its use here just distracted me from the actual story and took me out of the story rather than making me feel a part of it. Plus, there were several frustrating scenes where you couldn’t see what was going on. Perhaps this was the intent of the filmmaker in order to make it spookier, but to me it just made the film more frustrating to watch.

Second, the story was rather undeveloped and the film is basically just one big chase scene. Melissa and Yul flee from the ghosts, hide somewhere, the ghosts discover them, they run again, hide again and start the whole process over…and over…and over. Gets really boring really fast. And, of course, the whole “don’t trust country-folk” moral of the story is itself pretty generic.

As for the good, I really enjoyed Amy Smart’s performance as Melissa. Despite all her screaming, she was definitely the one in charge and kept a level head throughout the whole ordeal. Unlike some horror heroines, she didn’t just sit there and sob and rely on the guy to save her. Instead, she was the leader, crafted the plans and in the end faced off with the ghosts herself. Kudos to Nash and Sánchez for creating a strong female lead! We need more of these kick ass heroines in horror movies!

I also thought that the last scene in the film (despite the shaky cam used) was pretty damn heart-stopping, as Melissa is chased by what looks like hundreds of ghosts (you can see this in the trailer below, so, no, I’m not spoiling anything!). The ghosts themselves were pretty eerie, and Sánchez wisely kept them out of focus for the main bulk of the film. Their design was simple, but, boy, was it ever effective! I’ve got to give special FX company Spectral Motion props for making Asian ghosts scary again!

Still, despite the positives, the repetitive scenes and shaky cam movements spoiled Seventh Moon for me. A mediocre effort from Sánchez that stands in sharp contrast to his far superior earlier films.

Order it on Amazon!

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