AUGUST 30, 2009
And now I begin my, what, 5th review that starts off with how much I love Blair Witch Project and in turn, how rather disappointed I am with one of the directors’ subsequent films. Come on guys, you gotta get back together, or else we will never know if it was just a fluke or if you’re really the Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman of horror movies; doing decent work without but only truly creating magic with the other (with Dan Myrick’s The Objective being that one Air Supply song Steinman wrote, I guess, though that might be stretching the comparison). But oddly, Eduardo Sanchez’s Seventh Moon suffers not from the script this time (as all of their other solo films have), but with its presentation.
You remember how people were complaining about Blair’s camerawork making them sick and stuff? That movie is positively Kevin Smith-ian steady compared to this one. Even simple establishing shots look like they are shot with a handheld camera that has been zoomed in as far as possible, by a guy standing on a truck that is careening down a hill. And since many establishing shots are simply of the damn moon, you can really see how shaky it is when the only visible object on screen is darting around like a goddamn kid with a laser light.
But worse than the shaki-cam (which doesn’t usually bother me) is the complete lack of light in the film. There are maybe three total minutes in the film with fully visible images. Everything else is like 90% darkness with only highlights and eyeballs to provide any sort of semblance as to what we are looking at. You know how sometimes I joke that Peter Hyams thought that x director’s movie was too dark? Shit, x director would say THIS movie was too dark. Hyams would have walked out.
Sanchez is also obsessed with obscuring the image. An early scene set during sundown hours is shot from outside of a car with rolled up, highly reflective windows, so the only time you can see our characters is when the reflection of a dark tree passes through. Later, the car gets covered in blood and we watch scenes through the same windows, now offering a few holes of visibility in between blood smears/streaks. You DO know that Amy Smart is incredibly beautiful and thus folks in the crowd might want to get a decent look at her every now and then, right? Hell, I don’t think the guy playing her husband ever gets a traditional closeup.
Now all of this stuff is fine in small doses. The Descent certainly didn’t suffer from darkened images, and Blair didn’t suffer from their refusal to use a tripod. But when you combine them and present the entire film like that (literally) it just becomes a frustrating experience. You can’t tell who is who when two guys begin fighting; you can’t see what Amy Smart is shrieking at; hell, you can’t even see a structure that they stumble upon and begin pounding at its door. And even when you do catch a glimpse, the camera shakes around before you can really start to process what it is you are seeing.
You know, for a movie about a goddamn full moon, you’d think it would play a part in the film, such as, I dunno, lighting up the scene.
But like I said, the script isn’t the problem. It’s actually a pretty scary plot; ironically (or intentionally), it’s sort of Blair Witch meets The Descent. The couple is on their honeymoon, their tour guide gets lost and disappears after going to ask for directions, and then shit gets freaky when these white humanoid monsters begin to hunt them. They get lost, they bicker, they’re disoriented... it has all the makings of a good survival horror film - but as Mike Nelson once commented over Giant Spider Invasion, it’s a movie "that takes the bold step of not including the audience.” Disorienting us for a scene or two makes sense; but for the entire film does not. Amy Smart’s character knows she’s in the woods, and SHE knows there’s a white-painted monster in front of her... why can’t WE know these things? We end up understanding what is happening based on the process of elimination. “OK, two people seem to be fighting, neither of them are blond so I guess it’s not Amy Smart. It must be her husband and that random guy who showed up. Oh shit, one guy is down! OK, Amy doesn’t seem upset, so it must be the other guy.”
Actually, my one issue with the script is this scene - they are fighting because the monsters need to eat something (so they think anyway), i.e. a human. So they are essentially fighting to survive - they each want to subdue the other and put the body outside to distract the monster. But why should I automatically dislike this guy? He’s just trying to survive, no different than our “hero”. Something like this could have proposed an interesting moment in the film, but it’s passed up in favor of having the two guys whale on each other for a bit. In the dark.
So I dunno, it’s not a bad movie, just one that’s incredibly frustrating to watch. It’s like when the guy in front of you gets up from his seat or people are walking in front of a low-placed projector - you get the jist of an image, but never the whole thing, and it’s a constant distraction I never quite got used to. The behind the scenes info seems interesting though (despite the fact that they could have shot the bulk of the movie in my mom’s backyard for all of the difference it would make), the whole film was shot in Hong Kong, (obviously) only at night for a period of seven weeks. I learned this from a Q&A session after the film with Smart, two of the producers, and the film’s editor (the editing process seemed interesting too - this guy and another each cut a version of the film without contacting the other, and then Sanchez would blend them). Apparently this stuff will be on the DVD, which will be released as part of the 2nd series of Ghost House Underground from Lionsgate this fall. Hopefully they will do a blu-ray; maybe the higher resolution and improved contrast will improve matters. Either way I’d like to check out the extras and see what Sanchez (who couldn’t attend the Q&A due to his wife recently giving birth - grats to them!) has to say about it.
What say you?