“On the full moon of the seventh lunar month, the gates of Hell open and the spirits of the dead are freed to roam among the living” – Chinese Myth.
I wonder if there’s a roaming charge on that plan. Lionsgate brings back their popular Ghost House Underground series from last October. The series title likely borrows a bit from the old Grind House Theater that Quentin Tarantino brought back to fashion in the last couple of years. I assume it is intended to denote a horror film that skirts the art house scene and Seventh Moon certainly fits that description. This is absolutely the kind of horror film you might expect to encounter at Sundance or an independent horror film festival.
Let’s see a show of hands. How many married folks in the reading audience tonight? Great. Now, how many of you went to a foreign country for your honeymoon? Looks like quite a few of you. Last question. How many of you participated in a ritual involving sacred spirits, the doorway to hell, and a full moon? That few, eh? Doesn’t sound like a good idea, you say? Chapter 13 in Modern Wedding Planner? Unfortunately, Melissa (Smart) and Yul (Chiou) didn’t get the memo. They are a mixed race newlywed couple who already appear to have some family tensions over Melissa being Caucasian. The two decide to honeymoon in China so that Yul can connect with his roots. Apparently Melissa was more hoping for surf and sunshine. Yul apparently should have learned earlier that the wife is always right. The two participate in a spiritual ritual suggested by their vacation tour guide, Ping (Chan). On the way out of the small village in the middle of the night, Ping appears to be lost. He stops the car and claims to want to ask for directions. Of course, this is when Melissa begins to ask if anyone really believes all of this Seventh Moon hocus pocus. Ping leaves the couple to fend for themselves. Before long they are running away from spirit demons. Apparently they’ve been chosen as this year’s friendly neighborhood sacrifice to the Hell creatures.
Director Eduardo Sanchez came to notice in 1999 with the underdog hit The Blair Witch Project. Unfortunately, Sanchez can’t shake his roots. To bad the same can’t be said for his camera work. The Blair Witch influence is all over this one. We get a lot of the same erratic camera movements and awful lighting effects that gave that film the unique look it had. The problem is that Blair Witch was 10 years ago, and we’ve moved on. The nauseating camera stuff doesn’t work any more and is very soon going to earn Sanchez a one trick pony reputation. After ten years he still thinks we shouldn’t be able to actually focus our eyes for more than 5 minutes at a time. The problem is that this is actually a pretty good film overall. I liked the story quite a bit, and even though Smart and Chiou aren’t the best thespians I’ve seen this week, they certainly aren’t the worst. The creatures looked a little Nosferatu-like, and I was even pretty okay with the design. Unfortunately, the film’s pacing is the real nightmare here. There are far too many long moments of silent stalking. During these boring transitions the camera moves just as erratically as when the running starts. The image is often hidden by obstacles, and the lighting kills any chance at contrast, so we often don’t really see that much at all. When there finally is action the crazy camera movements keep me from enjoying this one near as much as I believe I could have.
The film also squanders its Hong Kong locations. There are some pretty nice establishing shots, but with all of the camera crap and the locations he finally chose, this could as well been filmed back in the Jersey Pine Barrens where Blair Witch was set.
Seventh Moon is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/Mpeg-4 codec. This is a tale of two images. The film begins with the Hong Kong shoot, and here the high definition image provides wonderful sharpness and some vivid colors. Once the film enters the isolated night settings it all changes. Now contrast is almost nonexistent, causing one to really strain to pick out what’s going on from time to time. Even the white creature makeup doesn’t stand out from the dark atmosphere. Black levels are weak, particularly for a Blu-ray release. Much of this looks like 16mm footage, and might very well be. I can’t image the DVD looks much worse than this does.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is again a tale of two films. There are moments where ambient sounds are used to good effect and we are truly immersed in the film. Surprisingly those moments again come in the beginning. Once the action starts the film makes a very abrupt shift to the front speakers. I can’t even say that dialog is good here, because there are many long moments without it. The only sounds we hear are the shifting trees and brush while characters run for their lives.
There is an audio commentary with Sanchez and Smart. It’s not near as engaging as I would have hoped. It’s informative, but not really that entertaining.
All of the features are in HD
Ghosts Of Hong Kong – The Making Of Seventh Moon: (11:45) It’s all pretty much unguided raw backstage footage. We watch as many stages of production happen in front of us. There are no interview clips here at all. We’re a fly on the wall.
The Pale Figures: (5:20) This feature is much more focused and guided. We get a good look at not only the look of the creatures but their movements. For a simple design I actually found them to be quite effective.
Mysteries Of The Seventh Lunar Moon: (7:38) This is obviously a very old documentary about the myth. The picture quality is pretty bad.
Sanchez likely thinks he’s being cool and auteur. He probably thinks he’s invented this style, and it’s what we all expect. Or, closer to the truth, he’s just not confident enough to take off the training wheels. Blair Witch was his ticket to the big time. A ticket he has, unfortunately, squandered, yet again. I just have one question, Sanchez. “What was that?”