Lionsgate // 2008 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 16th, 2009
The gates of hell have been opened.
"Help my wife! She's an American, she's not a part of this!"
Melissa (Amy Smart, Rat Race) and her husband Yul (Tim Chiou, Crossing Over) are an American couple spending their honeymoon in China, Yul's country of origin. One night, their driver Ping (Dennis Chan, Knock Off) gets lost while driving the happy couple through the rural Chinese countryside. Ping gets out of the car to go ask someone for directions. Melissa and Yul begin to worry when Ping doesn't come back, and attempt to seek shelter on their own. Alas, that's going to be a lot more challenging than they suspected. If there's ever a night you don't want to be stuck outside in China, it's the night of the year's seventh full moon. Why? Because that's the night that the gates of hell are unleashed and demons seek human sacrifices.
Seventh Moon is being released as part of the 2009 Ghost House Underground series, a line of horror films being distributed on DVD and Blu-ray by Lionsgate. The films are low-budget horror flicks hand-picked by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. I've seen three of this year's installments, and Seventh Moon is neither the best nor the worst of the series. While not as frightening and diabolically effective as the British child murderer flick The Children, the film is a far more satisfying experience than the ungainly Jack Ketchum adaptation Offspring.
The set-up is simple and effective. We get about ten minutes that establish that Melissa and Yul are a perfectly ordinary newlywed couple, reasonably happy most of the time despite the occasional round of bickering. They spend the next ten minutes getting lost. After that, it's a non-stop hour of white-knuckle supernatural horror, as our sweet-natured couple does everything they can to survive the demonic onslaught. Sure, there are brief, frantic moments in which Melissa and Yul attempt to figure out the rules of the Night of the Seventh Moon and determine what sort of sacrifices or rituals they could employ in order to increase their chances of survival, but for the most part it's just a lot of intense running, screaming, and grappling.
It works, if only on a pretty basic and uncomplicated level. The film's goal is to provide scares and thrills, and it delivers on those counts. There's very little in the way of character development, there aren't really any noteworthy surprises, and the plotting doesn't contain any thought-provoking complexity, but so what? It might have been nice if Seventh Moon were a bit more artistically ambitious, but it doesn't have to be. This is a film about pale, demonic zombie-devils chasing two innocent people across the Chinese countryside. It's spooky and entertaining stuff.
Director Eduardo Sanchez (whose most noteworthy achievement is co-writing and co-directing The Blair Witch Project with Daniel Myrick) has made a film that feels a bit more polished than his famous directorial debut, but not by a whole lot. There's still a very raw, "captured" feeling to the whole thing (though it's less justifiable in this case, as the person operating the shaky-cam isn't a character in the film), and Sanchez makes the demons of the film a bit more frightening by refusing to give us a really good, long look at them until the end. What we actually do see is frightening enough; a fine example of using makeup effectively on a small budget. Smart and Chiou have a lot of thankless but essential work to do in their roles, and their performances are natural and believable.
Discussing the transfer is a little difficult due to some of the artistic decisions within the film itself. While I don't really have a huge problem with the (admittedly pointless) shaky-cam look, I must admit that I found the dark visual aesthetic of the film to be nothing short of maddening at times. I mentioned that Sanchez doesn't really give us a good look at the demons. Well, that's partially because he doesn't really give us a good look at anything. Roughly 80% of the film takes place in very dark areas in which the only lighting available is moonlight or a cell phone. So, there are quite a few scenes that offer little more than vaguely-defined objects shifting across a mostly pitch-black screen. This will drive you bonkers after a while. While the transfer does boast deep blacks and reasonably good detail, the film doesn't really want you to make out anything, so the solid transfer doesn't much matter. Audio is decent, particularly in terms of sound design and score. The dialogue sometimes sounds a bit poorly-recorded and distant, but it's still clear enough to remain coherent at all times.
Supplements include an engaging audio commentary with Amy Smart and Eduardo Sanchez, which is a pleasant if slightly uninformative listen. In addition, you get three brief featurettes: "Ghost of Hong Kong: The Making of Seventh Moon" (12 minutes) is a standard EPK-style piece, "The Pale Figures" (5 minutes) takes a look at the makeup work done on the demons and "Mysteries of the Seventh Lunar Month" (7 minutes) is a brief little mockumentary in which various "experts" explain the details of the Seventh Moon curse. You also get one of those grating "micro video" music videos and a trailer.
In addition to the frustrating visual elements I've mentioned, there's one turning point in the plot that still nags at me. About an hour into the film, Smart makes an emotionally-fueled decision that makes no logical sense whatsoever. Her move accomplishes nothing and actually winds up costing another character their life. The decision seems motivated solely by the need to pad the film's running time and set up an action-packed third act.
A decent little horror flick gets a decent Blu-ray release. Give it a spin.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music Video