Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Though I found myself not really enjoying The Blair Witch Project very much, I have, over the years, tried to keep tabs on its co-directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
I liked Myrick’s The Objective and didn’t like his Solstice; I also liked Sánchez’s Altered (reviews for all three can be found shambling about in the Archive).
Now, there’s Sánchez’s Seventh Moon, and this is squarely in the plus column, as far as effective horror films go.

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.

That’s the Chinese myth that serves as the springboard for Seventh Moon, from a story by Sánchez and Jamie Nash (who also worked on Altered).
Upping the “fear in the wilderness” factor of Project, Seventh Moon finds newlyweds Yul and Melissa (Tim Chiou and Amy Smart) on their honeymoon in China, where Yul intends to visit his grandmother and other assorted relations.
Sadly, Yul’s return to the land of his forefathers, his new bride in tow, coincides with the festival of the Hungry Ghosts, and in a country steeped in superstition as China is, you just know things are going to go south sooner or later.
And they do, in an alarming, seasick-y sort of way.

Yes, there’s a semi-shakycam here, and unlike the “found video” format of Project, Seventh Moon is a straightforward narrative, so the choice of hand-held is purely an aesthetic (and perhaps economic) one, and I honestly have no problem with that.
But it’s entirely another matter when I find I can’t give the screen my complete, 100% focus, because I need to keep from getting nauseated. And if the film leaves me with an unsteady feeling (as Seventh Moon did), it’s an experience I’d be hesitant to repeat.

All that though, doesn’t serve to detract from the fact that Seventh Moon works, more so than the improv hullabaloo of Project (which was, for the record, far more disorienting and dizzying than Seventh Moon).
Taking the tack of Project (provide the set-up and have the protagonists run the gauntlet with a very simple cause and effect narrative as framework), Seventh Moon places us squarely with the newlyweds, lost in the dead of night in the Chinese countryside.
“Fish out of water” doesn’t really cut it when you’re running though fields in the pitch black, in a country where you don’t speak the language (poor Americanized Yul isn’t terribly fluent in Cantonese), and the traditions are utterly alien.

Having mentioned that, there’s an interesting depiction of the foreigner here whose complete ignorance of the customs and traditions of the country he’s passing through amounts to nothing so much as a kind of arrogance, a condescension of things far more ancient than MTV and apple pie. (Adeptly, much of this is conveyed in the title sequence, where we see Yul and Melissa partake of the event’s festivities, finding things amusing, and quaint, and “cool.”)

In Seventh Moon, Sánchez captures the anxiety and fear that develops from the darkness of the deep country night, bereft of the neon glow of the cities, of hearing voices speak in a foreign tongue, of having nothing familiar and comforting to latch onto, as the stuff of nightmare comes forcefully into our limited perception of the real world.
It’s scary, this, the sort of horror film that makes me want to avoid the country it’s set in (as I’ve said ‘round these parts before, if ever I may have had any desire to visit France in the past, I don’t now).
Seventh Moon may not be doing wonders for China’s tourism, but it’s certainly upping Sánchez’s standing in my books.

Parting shot: With the success of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, interest has once again turned to Blair Witch, and a third film has reportedly been pitched by Myrick and Sánchez. Time will tell if that gets off the ground.
Personally, I’m open (and honestly curious) to see what they come up with this time.
The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows may have ultimately been a disappointment, but I do appreciate its ambition and intent.
I can only hope that with a third installment, they leave the shakycam at home.
Or, at the very least, have less dizzying shakycam action, as is evidently possible, if titles like [REC], Cloverfield, and [REC] remake, Quarantine, are any indication.

(Seventh Moon OS courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com.)

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