According to Chinese myth, the dead are freed to walk among the living during the seventh full moon. Melissa and Yul, two Americans honeymooning in China enjoy the exotic "Hungry Ghost" festival that honors these spirits. But as night falls, they find themselves abandoned in a remote village and soon realize the legend is all too real. Plunged into an ancient custom they cannot comprehend, they must find a way to survive the night of the "Seventh Moon".
Back in 1999, Eduardo Sanchez made a film on a US$600,000 budget that went to gross US$250 million worldwide. That film was "The Blair Witch Project" and no other horror film has approached the sensational heights of its success until this fall’s "Paranormal Activity". Since then, Sanchez has done but one other film, the 2006 direct-to-video alien abduction horror "Altered". "Seventh Moon" is his latest, and it arrives with as little fanfare as his earlier "Altered".
It is a story of a young married couple, Melissa (played by Crank’s Amy Smart) and Yul (Tim Chiou) who are on a trip to Hong Kong to visit Yul’s family. Their trip runs right smack in the middle of the Hungry Ghosts Festival where it is believed that the gates of hell open on the night of the Seventh Moon (hence the title). Thanks to a dubious tour guide, the couple find themselves lost in the middle of a deserted village in the woods and come face to face with rampaging 'pale figures' known only as 'moon demons'.
Kudos to Sanchez for coming up with the unique, and perhaps even, exotic premise- to this reviewer’s knowledge, "Seventh Moon" may be the first Hollywood horror movie to cash in on the Chinese custom. Sanchez and co-writer Jamie Nash also deserve credit for delivering a tense, well-paced movie, despite the many missteps along the way. Clocking in at a brief 83 minutes, "Seventh Moon" is surprisingly engaging and a much better movie than one would expect.
Not to say though that it doesn’t have its flaws- indeed, its biggest weakness is how desperately Sanchez tries to emulate his earlier horror hit "The Blair Witch Project". Filmed mostly on handheld, "Seventh Moon" is done with the same headache/nausea-inducing shaky-cam technique. At least “Blair Witch” was shot from the p.o.v. of the backpackers trapped in the forest using their handheld- "Seventh Moon" however has no such excuse.
Worse still, Sanchez doesn’t bother to light up the movie enough so you can get a better look at what is happening. The scantily-lit night sequences are especially irritating during the film’s supposed climax, which unfortunately fizzles out because one just can’t make out who is chasing who. Coupled with some jarring edits, "Seventh Moon" is a Blair Witch-wannabe that shouldn’t have been.
Asian audiences may also take fault with the movie’s Westernized approach, so much so that the ghosts in "Seventh Moon" look more like rampaging zombies from 28 Days Later than lingering vengeful spirits one would more likely encounter in the East. This is despite the fact that Sanchez filmed the movie in Hong Kong- and much of the movie’s Cantonese dialogues are admirably accurate and authentic.
One can’t help but feel sorry for how "Seventh Moon" has turned out. Despite a great premise, and some tense pacing, the movie is let down by Sanchez’s own obsession with what made his maiden film project "Blair Witch" such an unprecedented success. In trying to copy himself and his earlier film, Sanchez lets down a perfectly good opportunity to deliver yet another solid horror hit. Though much better than the average direct to video horror films, the pity is how much better this could have been.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
There are no less than six extras on this Code 3 DVD but only three are substantial enough to warrant a checkout. Ghosts in Hong Kong is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the pre-production and filming of the movie, especially with regards to the challenges the crew faced while shooting in a remote village in Hong Kong. The Pale Figures is a brief 5-min featurette on the inspiration behind the ghosts in the movie, and the makeup and training that went into achieving the look that director Eduardo Sanchez wanted. Mythology is an old documentary on the Hungry Ghosts festival itself.
The rest of the extras are simply B-rolls. Behind the Scenes doesn’t offer much more than you’d already be able to see in the earlier "Ghosts in Hong Kong". Hungry Ghost Festival shows the shooting of the first scene of the movie where a street procession for the festival is underway and King of Hell is its equivalent but shot in a temple.
Film is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio so expect to see some obviously cropped scenes. Picture looks grainy a lot of the time but it’s more a consequence of how the movie was shot than the fault of the disc. Audio is presented in Dolby 2.0 and is a surprisingly engrossing affair thanks to the evocative sound design of the film.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 5 November 2009