I knew if I held out long enough at least one of the titles from the Ghost House Underground wave would turn out to be somewhat decent and entertaining. Luckily, the production company from long-time partners Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert give horror fans not one but two creepy flicks. First is an eerie tale of deranged, bloodthirsty kids in 'The Children.' The next one comes from 'Blair Witch Project' mastermind Eduardo Sanchez, titled 'Seventh Moon' and starring Amy Smart. While not exactly high-quality genre fare, both movies are the sort of material one would expect from "too-scary-for-theaters" after Dark trash. As for 'Seventh Moon', it is engaging and genuinely better than expected.
Maybe it has something to do with Eduardo Sanchez. After the success of 'Blair Witch', which, along with 'The Last Broadcast', ushered in the faux-documentary style popular nowadays, the writer/director followed it with a surprisingly well-made Sci-Fi suspense thriller in 'Altered'. So far, the young auteur appears to be churning out the kind of productions horror fans are pleased with. None has reached the same heights of his first feature, but at least they're original and imaginative, unlike the sort of rehashed garbage flooding our local theaters as of late.
With 'Moon', Mr. Sanchez scores again with a story about a newlywed couple (Amy Smart and Tim Chiou) honeymooning in China. Unfortunately, their vacation happens to coincide with a traditional Chinese holiday known as Ghost Festival. It's a time when Hungry Ghosts, usually the kui, are allowed to wander our plane of existence attempting to satisfy their extreme hunger and thirst. According to the movie, their appetites may be appeased with a blood sacrifice, human or otherwise, left by meager villagers. This being a horror film, the young couple happen to be the offerings of one isolated town of terrified people.
What makes the movie actually thrilling is the ghosts themselves. They are unlike anything we, as Americans, are remotely familiar with. These spirits take physical shape and rather than simply wandering about, waiting to yell "Boo!" these things chase after you like crazed, infected zombies. Taken from existing Chinese myth and lore about the afterlife (and based on an original story by Eduardo Sanchez and Jamie Nash, who also co-wrote 'Altered'), these ghosts are really freaky and destructive. There seems no way of escaping them, as they will break doors down and destroy car windows just to rip the protagonists into shreds.
Mr. Sanchez has also done a great job behind the camera, never really allowing viewers a good glimpse of the creatures. Although recycling the shaky-cam method, which can be somewhat annoying, the technique is put to good use and doesn't become an issue. Had Sanchez stopped moving the camera long enough, the illusion would suddenly fall flat, giving us the opportunity to notice a bunch of grown men in white make-up. Even when Smart's character enters the cave where the spirits dwell, visibility of the ghosts is kept to a minimum. As a matter of fact, the entire sequence in the cave is downright spine-chilling.
Added to this are some fine performances by Smart and Tim Chiou. Their reaction to the whole situation is relatively natural, making 'Moon' even more terrifying. Their constant arguing and bickering is well scripted and realistic too. I would imagine a few viewers will be put off by it, but I find it gives the film a pragmatic quality. I'm not very familiar with Chiou, despite IMDb.com stating he was also in 'The Wizard of Gore' remake with Crispin Glover. Obviously, he wasn't very memorable. But as for Smart, I've never really been a fan. In 'Moon', however, she pulls her weight and is slowly winning me over.
Seeped in incredibly disturbing traditional lore, Sanchez's 'Seventh Moon' turns out to be a nice surprise, as long as one is in the mood for a more atmospheric approach. There's little graphic gore to speak of, but the filmmakers made the right choice in doing that. Viewers are kept engaged more by the mystery of these spectral apparitions and the reactions of the terrified couple, rather than constant barrages of guts and blood. Not that I'm against it or anything. It's just sort of the old-school style of horror filmmaking we don't see very often. And that seems to be a rather refreshing take nowadays.
Despite looking as if shot with high-def cameras, this 1080p/AVC transfer of 'Seventh Moon' has to be one of the worst looking titles we've had in some time. Well, maybe 'Offspring' is slightly worse, but this is pretty bad too.
The most immediate drawback is contrast levels coming off hotter than normal, and there are many instances of blown-out whites ruining resolution and details. Brightness is directly affected by this, as blacks are poorly resolved, lack richness and looks flat throughout. The image shows some decent definition, which is expected from such equipment, but clarity and sharpness is a constant issue. For a movie mostly shot at night, delineation holds up surprisingly well under these conditions. Admittedly, there are many times when it's difficult to make out what's going on. Colors, or whatever little there are of them, appear naturally rendered, while skin tones are also healthy. But as it stands, the picture quality on this disc is below average.
At least, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the disc fares better than the video, with stable and well-balanced dynamics. Although nothing really stands out, the front soundstage exhibits some nice imaging and intelligible vocals. There are many moments of silence throughout, but discrete effects occupy the rear speakers from time to time, creating a very creepy atmosphere. While the musical score bleeds into the background, the sounds of crickets in the far distance and the echoes of ringing bells also add to the ambience. The only problem is that many of those sounds are a bit too precise and artificial. Low-frequency bass is rather anemic and dull, but it is put to good use when appropriate. In the end, the lossless track is quite nice and serves the movie well.
'Seventh Moon' makes its Blu-ray debut with a small but decent package of supplements that are mostly presented in high definition.
Out of the recent Ghost House Underground wave, two titles turned out to be pretty good, and 'Seventh Moon' is one of them. With Eduardo Sanchez in the driver's seat, the horror flick about Hungry Ghosts is bizarre but chilling. The Blu-ray debuts with poor picture quality but a good audio presentation. The supplemental package is also okay, but at least the material is somewhat entertaining. Overall, it's not bad movie, but the safest bet is to give it a rent first.