After shattering box-office records and inspiring countless imitators with their breakout hit, The Blair Witch Project, creators Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez have maintained something of a low profile since then. The pair haven’t worked together since they co-produced 2000’s Blair Witch sequel, Book of Shadows, and, since that time, each has worked independently, with Myrick serving as a producer on several low-budget, straight to DVD horror titles (Sublime/Rest Stop), while Sanchez has quietly churned out a pair of little-seen films, including 2006’s sci-fi shocker, Altered, and, most recently, 2008’s Seventh Moon, the latter of which comes to DVD and Blu-ray as part of the Ghost House Underground series from Sam Raimi and Lionsgate.
Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart) are a recently wed couple honeymooning in China where Melissa is to meet some of the very Americanized Yul’s (he barely speaks a lick of Chinese) extended family. The pair’s trip begins with some sightseeing in Hong Kong, where they party at a festival, and take part in a ceremony celebrating the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar (sort of like a Chinese version of Burning Man, sans the ecstasy and naked hippies). Legend has it that this is a time in which the gates of Hell are open, allowing the hungry dead to roam the countryside in search of food.
While en route to the remote village where Yul’s relatives live, Melissa asks their tour guide, Ping (Dennis Chan), if he believes in the ancient legend, and Ping, like any good tour guide, gives her a fairly noncommittal answer. With her husband passed out next to her, Melissa falls asleep, only to awaken when Ping stops at a dark village. At first, Melissa thinks they’ve reached their destination, but Ping claims he is lost, and tells her he’s going into town to ask for directions. After an hour goes by, Melissa rousts Yul from his drunken slumber, and the two go into the village to search for their driver. In the center of the village, the couple discover a virtual petting zoo’s worth of sacrificial animals, but no sign of Ping. As they knock on doors looking for help, the villagers begin to chant something that Yul interprets as an invitation. However, it’s not an invitation to them, but, rather, to the restless spirits for whom the village have laid out their furry buffet, and it’s not long before Melissa and Yul realize they, too, are part of the sacrifice.
Seventh Moon has a great concept, but fails in its execution. It’s as if Sanchez stumbled upon the myth of the seventh moon online and thought, “hot damn, this’d make a great movie”, and then ran off to China with his video camera and made up the rest as he went along. The first act of the film is shot in an ultra-shaky documentary/vérité style that is at once infuriating and thoroughly disorienting, with Sanchez’s cameras buzzing around his actors like angry hornets, picking up barely decipherable chunks of improvised dialogue, zooming in and out of focus, and ultimately looking like a blind kid’s field trip to Hong Kong.
Things become a bit less seizure inducing when the action moves out into the countryside, but, by then, it’s so damned dark you still can’t make heads or tails of what in the hell is going on. It’s at this point where Seventh Moon runs out of ideas and devolves into one long chase scene after another, with Yul and Michelle being pursued through the woods by what appears to be a mob of naked Chinese mimes.
I’ve certainly seen worse films than Seventh Moon, but, given the sort of movies I watch, that’s hardly high praise. Still, I did watch it all the way through ‘til the end, which is better than I can say for some of the stuff that crosses my path. The concept would have probably made for a great episode of Masters of Horror (would you believe Scooby Doo?), but, at just over 90 minutes, it’s stretched about as thin as Lindsay Lohan’s chances of living to 30.
Lionsgate delivers Seventh Moon to Blu-ray with a fairly unspectacular 1.78:1 transfer that starts off promisingly with a few vivid shots of downtown Hong Kong, but things go south quickly once night falls, as the image becomes exceptionally noisy. Fine detail during daylight sequences looks good (well, for as long as Sanchez’s camera stays in focus, anyway), but detail is all but lost in darker sequences (ie; the rest of the movie) to compression artifacts and buzzing grain.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 fares much better, with a solid surround mix, robust bass response, and warm and natural sounding dialogue. The film’s percussion heavy soundtrack is aggressive but never overpowering, while the “action” oriented sequences are buoyed by strong mids and highs. Quieter moments feature some welcome discrete effects that work the entire soundfield.
As with the other (mostly excellent) Ghost House Underground releases, Lionsgate offers up Seventh Moon with a nice assortment of supplements, including a feature-length commentary track with Sanchez and Smart, three short standard def featurettes, including; Ghosts of Hong Kong: The Making of Seventh Moon (11:44), The Pale Figures (5:20), and Mysteries of the Seventh Lunar Month (7:37), as well as trailers for the rest of the releases in the series (1080p).
Seventh Moon is a major letdown after seeing the other quality entries in this year’s Ghost House Underground collection. While the concept of Chinese ghost/zombies is an admittedly cool one, there’s just not enough story here to carry a feature-length film. While I didn't hate the movie, I can’t recommend it as much more than a rental for the curious.