Blair Witch Project filmmaker Eduardo Sánchez certainly likes to keep his cast lists small. In both of his feature films (Blair Witch and Altered) you could count the actors without even having to take off your shoes—or wear sandals. This time around, Sánchez has whittled the cast down to basically 2 people—Melissa and Yul (Amy Smart and Tim Chiou)—on their honeymoon in China when a local legend leaves them running for their lives.
As the happy couple is being taken by their driver Ping (Dennis Chan) to the rural Chinese countryside to visit with Yul’s family, he makes a wrong turn and winds up in an apparently deserted village in the middle of the night. Stepping out to ask for directions, Ping never returns. When Melissa and Yul follow they discover the locals have hidden in their homes and left animals as sacrifice to the malicious spirits that walk the earth under the Seventh Moon. As they try to escape, an accident leaves them on foot, and in the path of an unrelenting evil.
Get ready people, if you thought that the shaky-cam action of The Blair Witch Project was cause enough to make you pop a half-dozen Dramamine—before settling down for a viewing—then your head is going to explode when you try to watch this flick.
If anything can be said for Seventh Moon, it’s certainly not boring! The histrionics displayed by Amy Smart are liable to rip your eardrums out while the visuals leave you eyeballs spinning and your temples throbbing. With all the screaming, out of focus photography and monster attacks, it’s a cacophony of sensory overload that makes Quarantine and Cloverfied look they were shot with a Steadicam. The film is essentially one non-stop chase sequence that offers only very little explanation near the end. One thing the film does offer is several moments of clear suspense beginning with the nighttime drive away from the village—moments of foreshadowing using the camera angles lend to a surprisingly effective scare…even if you saw it coming from a mile away.
Other notable successes in the film include the characterization of Melissa by Amy Smart. Melissa is far and away the stronger and more rational of the pair. Her strength drives the film forward when Yul would simply lay down and die. Melissa fights back. It’s an exciting element added to the film and one that is sadly still missing in so many horror films today. The other highlight is the creature design. Simple and uncomplicated, the creatures at the center of the chase are only illuminated in the glowing fuzzy background images for 99% of the picture. From a distance they echo the monsters of The Descent or perhaps the Morlocks of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine—Fearsome, formidable and ultimately terrifying despite their relative familiarity—hats off to the FX crew at Spectral Motion for demonstrating that even pasty Asian ghosts can get a startling upgrade given the right light.
Seventh Moon is certainly not going to be for everybody—genre fans included. Its plot is relatively straightforward but the film definitely tests your sanity and attention span. The ending is expertly handled, but many of the attack sequences beforehand and a bizarre (almost dreamlike) interlude are clumsily staged. The film is only intermittently subtitled which provides another annoyance. Since the film is seen through the eyes of the main characters, and Yul only speaks a little Chinese, it makes sense in the beginning to allow Yul to be the one that provides snippets of translation to the viewer. When the subtitles start (a bit later on), that action tells the audience we need to pay attention to what the other characters are saying. The problem lies that what appears on screen to be the most important dialogue (for example the villagers cries and chants) goes un-translated (but for Yul’s interpretation). It just seems like the filmmakers didn’t consider the point of view that this film was taking when they made decisions about what to subtitle and what to leave alone.
By no means is Seventh Moon fatally flawed by any of these elements—in truth the film can be difficult to navigate but the ending clears up most of the loose strings. Amy Smart makes the most of her role and despite the fact that I would have appreciated a few establishing shots from the mercy of a tripod every once in a while—just to provide the viewer with a sense of the overall setting of each given scene—I respect the decision to shoot the whole film handheld. The films ending provides one of these great stagy moments that filmmakers love to build a story toward. It’s my favorite moment in the film and Sánchez really nails it. So…if you get there, I think it will have all been worth it and certainly a step in the right direction for Sánchez—after the generally disappointing reception for his last film—Altered. Just remember, if you do decide to take a journey under the Seventh Moon, you might want to make a stop at the drug store and pick up some pills to pull you through!